Tag Archives: spirituality

I only want to be…

I only want to be a SPP, a priest friend used to say. SPP stood for simple parish priest.

I was reminded of that when I read that Padre Pio used to say, I only want to be a poor friar who prays.

Both of those statements got me to thinking of what I want.

Growing up, I had no idea of what I wanted to be. Teachers would suggest possible careers for me—writer or teacher being two of the most popular—but those suggestions sounded beyond my capabilities. My low self-esteem was deeply ingrained.

I was not allowed to go to college after high school, and looking back, I imagine that may have been where I might have discerned my desires.

In my mid-twenties, when I was very involved in my church and attending Mass every day, many people suggested I become a nun, and I did explore that option. But again, it was not something I had always dreamed of (although I did once have a nun doll that I rather liked).

My truth was that I never thought of myself as having a dream; I don’t remember ever saying, I only want to be.…

I tell myself that lots of people don’t know what they want to be when they grow up, and I have learned that lots of people start out as one thing only to discover that is not what they really want after all.

Nurses become pharmaceutical sales representatives, teachers become real estate agents, and businesspeople become nonprofit leaders (or vice versa). I even know a doctor who had been an architect. Imagine all that schooling only to discover it is not what you really wanted.

I know several lawyers who discovered they did not want to be lawyers. Two are now elementary school teachers, another opened a bookstore, and another works in fundraising.

Now, deeply in the third third of my life, I can see that life plays out in ways I and many others could not have imagined. I suppose having a dream, an idea of what one wants to be, can provide a base, but sometimes that dream can get in the way of using our gifts and talents to their fullest.

Padre Pio is a good example of someone who allowed himself to become what people (and God) needed him to be—a sought-after spiritual advisor and confessor. Perhaps he imagined he would have more time for prayer, but he seems to have adapted to the needs of the people who came to him.

A neighbor recently attended a function at my work and commented that she could see that my work is more than a job. You belong to those people, she said, and they belong to you. Growing up, I may not have known what I wanted to be, but my life has worked out better than I probably could have planned.

Have you ever said, I only want to be…? Has the dream changed over time?

Praying for courage

Rachel Mankowitz is a blogger and author who inspires me. Rachel openly shares her history, current struggles and vulnerabilities. I faithfully read her blog, and I have read her book, Yeshiva Girl, a story that gave me insight into growing up in a religious Jewish household and also challenged some of my preconceived ideas about Jewish people (Before reading her book, I did not know that I believed Jewish men did not abuse children, but as I read Yeshiva Girl, that fact kept catching me. “Oh yeah,” I would think, “Jewish men abuse, too.” It sounds naïve, I know, but there it is.).

Anyway, Rachel’s bravery inspired me to pray for courage. “I want to be like Rachel,” I would often say to myself after reading something she wrote. And then I would pray, “God, give me courage.” Rachel might demur, but in my opinion, she is one of the bravest women I have ever known.

I want to be less concerned about protecting others and more able to just speak my truth and share my experiences. I had learned from reading Rachel that her honesty helped me, and if I could speak honestly, maybe I could help someone else (and help myself in the process to heal from the shame of what happened to me).

When I last spoke with my spiritual director and told her some of the things that had been happening in my life, she asked, “Have you been asking for something? Maybe courage?” I told her I had been, and then I could see what she saw.

Over the past few weeks, I had begun to speak up and to speak out. The stories I was telling my spiritual director were examples of me being courageous. God had answered my prayer.

I am feeling less fearful and less protective of those who have done something harmful. Let the chips fall… is what I have begun to think.

New clichés are replacing the old messages I used to tell myself that left me powerless and paralyzed. It is utterly freeing to speak of my past without fear of judgment or recrimination.

Some topics don’t come up in polite conversation, I used to tell myself as a reason I never told anyone my abuse history. Now, I just bring them up.

When I was twenty-seven, I was raped, I said to my neighbor as we walked in the park yesterday. Was she shocked? Maybe. But I had to impart that knowledge to explain why I had contacted the local domestic abuse organization to volunteer for their Survivor Speaker’s Bureau. In the past, I would have said nothing. Truthfully, in the past I would not have contacted the organization at all but would have kept my history to myself.

All my life experiences have shaped me and made me who I am today. I want to shed all shame and walk freely into the future. Thanks, Rachel, for being so brave and inspiring me to pray for courage.

Life is too short…

Life is too short to drink cheap wine,

a friend used to say

as he sipped his favorite red wine.

He died young

but enjoyed lots of fine wine

in his short life.

What will you do with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver asked.

She, too, knew the how fragile life could be

and the urgency of embracing the moment.

Even if we live for

eighty years or ninety,

is it ever enough?

Is there not one more thing to be done,

one more place to see,

one more goal to accomplish,

one more person to forgive?

Say yes to the invitation,

accept change,

act on impulses,

be kind and generous,

eat good food and

drink good wine.

Live each day as if it were your last.

Join the dance

The Cardinal flowers outside my window

bend to the will of the wind,

red waves swaying to a tune I cannot hear,

inviting me to join their dance and

let the breeze muss my hair and lift my skirt.

Dance with abandon, the bright red buds call out to me.

Move to your own inner song,

that tune that plays over and over in your head.

Sing out loud.

Laugh until your belly hurts.

Dream of possibilities.

Give in to the impulse to play and be silly,

touch the happiness within

and let it flow out

into a world yearning for joy.

Growing in resiliency

I work at a cancer support center that is part of a national organization which hosts an annual conference. Last year, it was in Philadelphia and this year it was virtual. The keynote speaker talked about resilience.

This speaker shared that fifteen years ago, he was working in a toxic environment which led to a deep depression. One day, when he could not take it any longer, he tried to kill himself by driving off an overpass on the expressway; he thought he could make his death look like an accident. Fortunately, the guardrail held, and he lived. Now he spends his life sharing messages of hope, positivity and resiliency.

The incident he shared reminded me of a time in my late thirties when I was living in a toxic situation that had drawn me into a deep depression.

One day, I was stopped at an intersection, waiting for a Mack truck to drive by. I remember thinking that if I pulled out at exactly the right moment, the truck would hit me with enough force to kill me. My second thought, though—and the one that saved my life—was that I had a passenger in the car, and it seemed completely unfair to risk her life to take my own.

Before that moment, I knew I had been struggling with feelings of hopelessness and a deep sadness, but I could not see a way out. The vortex of negativity had a strong grip on me, and I felt like I was being sucked under.

God-resilience-hope

The incident with the truck frightened me so much that I called a therapist the next day. I also moved out of the toxic living situation that was fueling my depression.

The conference speaker talked about depression and getting professional help; he also talked about the keys to developing resiliency skills.

Resiliency is important for people facing cancer, and, like depression, can be the catalyst for developing new skills.

Not long after that Mack-truck incident, I remember telling my spiritual director that I felt like I was falling apart, and she said it seemed like I was falling together. I got her point—sometimes we have to be completely shattered before we can begin to rebuild.

I believe that every curse has a blessing, and my task is to seek the blessing.

The isolation brought on by COVID19 seems like an invitation to reflect on the people and experiences in my life that have helped me grow, and this conference talk was a catalyst for remembering a difficult time that ultimately led to deeper healing.

I feel blessed to have not only survived the difficult and sometimes devasting events in my life, but also to have grown because of them. Wonderful therapists and spiritual directors have guided me, and faithful friends have supported me. The grace of God nudges me toward forgiveness—of myself and those who have hurt me—and letting go.

Where do you find hope in the midst of life’s challenges?

God-resilience-hope

Creating a new life

Do not worry…, Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:25, but I find myself worrying more now than ever before.

Some of my higher levels of anxiety are connected to my mother’s health, but the pandemic has added layers of uncertainty.

Most everything has been disrupted—my daily routines, work schedules and social life are not what they once were. Even my dreams are filled with anxiety—late for a meeting, lost in a maze, missing a plane, etc.

Worry, like fear, is useless—what is needed in trust; but how can I trust our situation will get better when it just keeps getting worse?

It seems that every time someone tries to return to what life was like before the pandemic, there is another spike in new coronavirus cases.

We live in a new reality, and wishing and hoping for what once was is futile. We need to let go of how things used to be in order to move forward.

People who have had unexpected, life-altering events probably grasp this truth more easily.

I work at a cancer support center and have talked with many people about their “new normal,” a phrase people use for the time after they have moved beyond the shock of the diagnosis and settle into a world of medical jargon and treatment facilities.

Losing one’s hair because of chemotherapy is one part of the physical changes that cancer treatment brings, but there are many others, including fatigue, pain and weight loss or gain. People don’t ask for cancer or choose it, but they have to accept this new reality to survive.

How someone used to be before cancer is not how they are after, and grieving all that is lost because of cancer is an important part of the healing process.

I imagine the losses from the pandemic are similar, and we need to grieve what has been lost rather than wishing and hoping for things to go back to how they were.

Accepting the situation and moving through grief is the way forward. New life happens when we let go of what once was and create a “new normal” for our current situation.

We know the stories about how something needs to die in order for new life to happen—babies leave the security of the womb, seeds drop from pods to become flowers, etc. The pandemic seems to be inviting us into this same kind of transformation, asking us (or perhaps, demanding) that we let go of what once was and build something new.

Some of that is already taking place. Working from home has become the norm for many people who used to go to offices every day. We are driving less, cooking more and spending more time outdoors. Empty office buildings and vast parking lots have become memorials to a way of life that no longer exists.

How are you dealing with what you have lost? What are you grieving? What new routines have you created that will continue post-pandemic?

August flowers

The purple coneflowers

have been blooming for weeks

and are now losing their color in the August sun.

Their petals have begun to drop to the ground,

leaving only the dried-out brown pods.

Summer is passing.

This morning, a bright yellow bird

with a dab of black on its forehead

and splashes of black splayed out on its wings

landed on a pod

and picked out the seeds.

Breakfast.

How can something so ordinary bring me such joy?

mindfulness-nature-joy
(Photo from Virginia Department of Environmental Quality)

Living the life I was meant to live

My Rose of Sharon shrub is finally blooming—a month later than usual—and bees are visiting every morning to gather pollen. As I watch them crawling into the flowers, I wonder where they have been during these weeks of waiting for the flowers to bloom. Do bees anticipate nature the way I do?

God-pandemic-mindfulness

Nature has been snagging my attention this year more than in other years—probably because I am home all the time instead of spending my days in an office. My sunporch is now my office, and the life beyond the windows fascinates me.

Watching the bees gather pollen this morning, I wondered if they gather only what they need and then leave the flower, even if it means some pollen has been left behind. Will another bee enter the same bloom to retrieve the remaining pollen? Do bees have deadlines for the work they need to accomplish?

God-pandemic-mindfulness

The pandemic has given me lots of time to ponder all sorts of things I had not thought of before—like the habits of bees—which has led me to think of how I am going about my work and living my life.

I wasn’t feeling well the other day, and as I rested on the sofa, I thought about the possibility of getting the virus and my possible demise (I am well into the age group most likely to die from the coronavirus).

What is left undone? I asked myself.

Some of the answers are predictable—places I still want to visit, renovating my kitchen, finishing the new garden bed, books I want to read and becoming more proficient in Polish (which is connected to the aforementioned travel—I have a dream of living in Poland for at least a few months after I retire. It is the country of my ancestors, and I love the feeling of connection I have when I am there).

All of these, though, are desires, and I think I could let go of them.

What do I still need to do?

This question gets more to the heart of the matter. Like the bees, I, too, have a job for which I was created. Have I done it? Am I doing it? Am I as determined to fulfill my personal mission as that bees?

After one of my earliest retreats, I read a book about extending the benefits of retreat time, which suggested asking these questions when making decisions:

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?

It can be easy to get caught up in the daily activities of life, but this pandemic has stripped away much of that casual activity and I am left with a great deal of solitude.

What do I want out of my life? What really matters?

The words from Micah 6:8 come to mind.

God-pandemic-mindfulness

It is both simple and challenging.

What are you pondering during this time?

Learning from bees

Clover covers my lawn like a blanket,

small, white puffs that lighten up the dark green of the grass.

The sweet fragrance of the flowers draws bees to my yard.

From my porch, I can see the white buds swaying slightly,

and I know the bees are on the move,

flitting from flower to flower,

gathering nectar.

I am cautious when walking across the yard,

not wanting to disturb a bee going about his business,

not wanting to feel the sting of his displeasure.

How I envy the bees their simple lives.

They know just where to go to get what they need,

and how to do their part for the life of the colony.

God-mindfulness-nature

Add a little kindness

My grandparents lived on a farm in northern Michigan, 250 miles from our home, and we visited them at regular intervals to help with planting and harvesting.

Each spring, we went up to gather the stones that had had been pushed to the earth’s surface. I remember asking my dad where the stones came from, and he said that in the summer, the earth produced alfalfa and hay, and over winter, the earth produced stones. It did not sound particularly scientific, but it seemed true because every spring, new stones appeared.

Across northern Michigan, these stones were used to build houses and barns; and when I moved back to Michigan seven years ago, I placed some around my flower beds.

God-kindness-healing

In late summer, my dad helped with harvesting the alfalfa or other crops my grandfather had planted, and in late fall, we returned to gather potatoes. The schools up north closed for potato picking, and I used to joke that we were the only kids in the Detroit Public Schools who knew there was something called potato-picking season.

My happiest time on the farm, though, was when I was helping my grandmother. Collecting eggs from the chicken coop was my favorite morning chore, but I also loved feeding the chickens and working in her extensive garden. She invited me to join her in all her everyday activities and working by her side was pure joy.

She taught me how to make bread, about proofing the yeast, kneading the dough, and letting it rise. I learned to make yeast rolls from my grandmother, three small balls of dough plopped into each cup of a greased muffin tin and then baked to a golden brown in her wood-burning stove.

God-kindness-healing

My grandmother’s knowledge of know how much wood to put into the oven to get it to the right temperature mystified and impressed me.

When I was old enough, my grandmother taught me how to quilt on the quilting frame that took up most of the sitting room. We would sit side-by-side and pull threads of yarn through the thick wool, creating squares of tufted fabric.

I still have the quilt my grandmother made for me, and it provides a warmth that goes beyond the thickness of the wool.

Working beside my grandmother was the safest place I knew; she never criticized me and always seemed to appreciate me.

Reflecting on Matthew 13:33, the parable of the yeast, brought back these memories of my grandmother. As I reflected on my time with her, I realized how her kindness was a yeast in my life, showing me that even the small acts of daily life, when infused with love, can soften hard edges and heal inner wounds. She taught me that being kind can change a person, in the way her kindness changed me.

The stones around my flower beds, my quilt and the aroma of baking bread connect me to my grandmother and her abundant kindness. Her lessons and her love live on.