Tag Archives: transformation

vulnerability-trust-spirituality

Falling apart

I think most of us have had something painful or difficult in our lives, experiences we might rather move away from (quickly) rather than examine for life lessons. My living in l’Arche was like that for me.

l’Arche is a Christian community where people with and without developmental disabilities live together and create community. Sounds idyllic, right? For some people, it is. But I was not one of those people. For me, living in l’Arche was very painful.

My plan had been to live in l’Arche for the rest of my life. I had quit my job, given away my furniture, packed the rest of my belongings into my car and headed to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. I quickly realized, though, that my plan was not going to work out, and I left the community before my first year was up.

I was devastated—and humiliated and angry. This was the most difficult and painful situation I had gone through—and I had gone through some pretty painful things.

I think what made this more difficult was that I had brought it on myself. No one had coerced me or forced me. I had decided to go to l’Arche. It was a decision I had freely made with prayer and planning—and then it did not work out.

Shortly after leaving l’Arche, I sought spiritual direction to help me process my sorrow and grief.

All of my hurt, disappointment and frustration poured out in that session. Tears of sadness mixed with tears of anger. I was confused and felt like I had just been through an extreme spiritual battle—a battle I had lost.

Did I give up too quickly? Had I not been persistent enough? Doubt wracked me.

“I think I am falling apart,” I said to the spiritual director.

“I think you are falling together,” she replied.

Her words stopped me cold.

Had I been looking at this apparent failure from the wrong angle? Was the whole point of my moving to l’Arche to break me down, to uncover what I had so carefully kept hidden? Was I meant to fall apart so that God could put me back together in a different way? Had this experience revealed deeper truths to me that I might not have learned any other way?

Laying out the pieces of my shattered dreams and allowing someone else to look at them was a turning point. Where I had been stuck trying to piece things together in one way, she was able to offer a different view. It was like a jigsaw puzzle—one where I could not see the whole picture.

Great mysteries are sometimes hidden in unexpected places.

Advent is a wonderful time to reflect on the hidden mysteries of our lives and to be open to growing in trust that God sees the whole picture of our lives.

More often that we might think, God is helping us to fall together, even when it might feel like we are falling apart.

 

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mindful-grief-transformation

It is not all right with me

I went to San Francisco a few weeks ago for a workshop on grief. One of my intentions was to notice what I notice. Whether I was walking the grounds of the retreat center—hearing birds and seeing flowers, trees and bugs—or sitting in a workshop session, I tried to be present and mindful.mindful-grief-transformationWhen the presenter spoke, I tried to pay attention to the words that caught my attention and the images and memories that came to me. When others shared, I listened attentively and also noted my reactions and feelings—trying to pay attention to what was stirred up inside me.

The whole weekend felt like one continuous prayer where I was trying to be open to God’s invitation to gain insight and freedom. I was there to learn, not only what the workshop had to offer, but also what God was offering to me.

I had brought with me my losses and grief—and also hopes for insight and transformation—and hope does not disappoint (Romans 5:3-5).

It is not all right with me was a prompt I used for one of the workshop’s writing exercises. It was from a list of “protest” prompts which included:

I say it matters

Enough

I will not live small

No more

I will not pretend

I survived.

We were instructed to write for ten minutes without stopping, to keep the pen moving and let flow whatever flowed.

In part, I wrote, “It is not all right with me that anyone not take me seriously, that I be ignored or discounted. It is not all right with me that my opinion be dismissed or my beliefs be minimized….It is not all right with me to have the value of my experience doubted or belittled.”

Since returning home, I have read my journal entries from the workshop several times, and this section of my journal keeps catching my attention.

I tried to recall the last time someone did not take me seriously or dismissed me or my beliefs, and I realized that I am the person who does this. I am the queen of “yes, but…” when someone compliments me or asks me to share something. I demur, believing others have much more to offer than I.

I am guilty of discounting my experiences, of dismissing my mindful-grief-transformationopinions and minimizing my beliefs. I am the one who tends to belittle my experience and doubt my own reality.

It was an “aha” moment about complicity in not taking myself seriously. No matter how much affirmation I get, I tend to minimize my experience and accomplishments. It was also a moment for self-compassion, another theme of the workshop.mindful-grief-transformationI pray to be open to the invitations God offers for transformation and self-compassion. I pray to be more trusting in the positive messages from others than the negative messages I tell myself. I pray to lean into God and allow God’s love to fill me. I pray to say, “Yes” without adding the “but.”mindful-grief-transformation

 

 

 

 

 

 

god-blessings-transformation

You are worth more than gold

Last weekend, I returned to Philadelphia for a friend’s thirtieth birthday celebration. Last weekend also marked the fifth anniversary of my friend Jim’s death, and I commemorated that occasion with Mass and dinner with friends.

I had lived in Philadelphia for twenty-eight years and have friends there who have known me for most of my adult life.

One friend asked me if I had come to see any upside to the time of Jim’s illness and death. I reminded her that I believe every curse has a blessing, and I recounted some of the blessings from that difficult time.god-blessings-transformationJim used to tell me to “take it in” whenever someone paid me a compliment.

Low self-esteem had plagued me from an early age, and I didn’t really believed the positive things people said to me. Each time Jim told me to take it in I knew I was minimizing or dismissing a compliment—a habit so deeply ingrained that I was unaware I was doing it. He never seemed to tire of reminding me that people appreciated me, even though I was blind to my own gifts and talents.god-blessings-transformationBut in the process of caring for Jim, a switch got tripped, and I started to be able to take it in. I began to believe the compliments.

While Jim was received radiation, we met weekly with his radiologist and I would report on Jim’s reaction to the treatment. During one of these meetings, the radiologist said to me, “You are an accurate report.” “I am,” I thought.

I had realized during Jim’s illness that I can deal with most anything as long as I know what is happening. My reports were accurate, and I was able to take in the radiologist’s affirmation.

“You are doing the best you can for Jim,” the radiology receptionist said to me one day when I was particularly emotional and weepy. I took in her affirmation, too. I was doing the best I could, and Jim not only lived months beyond original expectations, but his life was good.god-blessings-transformationAbout six months into Jim’s illness, his neurosurgeon said, “If I was just looking at your scans, I would be deeply concerned. But talking to you and looking at you, you seem to be doing quite well.” “Thank you,” I said, and I meant it. I had come to realize that Jim was doing well at least in part because of the care I was giving him.

These little experiences began to add up, and I started to see myself differently. My self-esteem was being bolstered during this very difficult time. I was actually functioning fairly well, and I was doing the best I could for Jim.

While Jim’s brain cells were being destroyed by cancer, my negative self-image was also being destroyed and my brain cells were being reorganized into a more accurate report.

“You are gold,” Jim said to me one day. “Thank you,” I replied, as I took in his compliment and believed him.god-blessings-transformation

Christmas-love-vulnerability

Christmas love

In the days leading up to Christmas, I have been pondering how God infused humanity with divine love.

This infusion of love happened in the most vulnerable of circumstances—an unmarried woman became pregnant, Joseph had the courage to take her as his wife, their arduous trip to Bethlehem, no room at the inn and giving birth among the animals. It happened to ordinary people who were living ordinary lives.

The shepherds were the first to hear the news, lowly shepherds. God chose to reveal His greatest glory to working-class people—not royalty or rich people, but poor people, marginalized people, people who smelled like the sheep they lived among.

The fact that God chose these particular people and circumstances makes me think that lowliness and vulnerability are highly esteemed by God. God prefers lowliness.

As I pondered the mystery of God coming to us in these humble surroundings, love took on a different look. That first Christmas turned societal order upside down, placing first those who seemed to be last. That Christmas, the lowliest were the first to receive the message of God’s love breaking into the world.

Christmas love seeks out those who are marginalized and lets them know that they are the most important to God, that God chooses them.

Christmas love honors two things we might find difficult to even look at, let alone esteem—poverty and powerlessness. Who wants to be poor and powerless? Who wants to even think about their brokenness and fragility?

Yet, the message of Christmas seems pretty clear—God chooses those who are lowly; Christmas invites us to consider our own lowliness—our own weakness and insecurity.

This is the gift of Christmas—not expensive presents or lavish parties, but humility and vulnerability; that is where God touches us with divine love. God turns things upside down by blessing those very parts of ourselves we try to hide.

Christmas-love-vulnerability

 

As I thought about Christmas, the word fear kept coming to me. Fears keep us from accepting those we see as different, because we can fear being judged, being hurt, being taken advantage of or even being seen as different. I wonder if Mary and Joseph were afraid of the shepherds who approached them and their newborn baby—in the way we might be afraid of being approached by someone who had been living outside.

Christmas assures us that God prefers to meet us in our vulnerability, our fears and insecurities, our poverty and pain. There God can infuse us with divine love so that we can be open to pain and suffering—our own and others.Christmas-love-vulnerability

Christmas love is accepting and forgiving. It is abundant, and it offers true freedom and peace when we can let go of our fears and expectations and honestly admit our dependence on God.

To be humble rather than proud; to be weak rather than strong; to love rather than hate; to trust rather than fear; to hope even in dire circumstances—let the Christmas celebration begin.Christmas-love-vulnerability

 

 

 

 

 

create-prayer

Inertia

Inertia is not a word I hear often, but when someone said it the other day, what popped into my mind was: An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion. I don’t know when I learned Newton’s law of inertia —maybe fifty years ago—but it obviously stuck.

I hadn’t thought of inertia in a long time, but since hearing the word I can’t get it out of my mind. I’ve been thinking about how inertia works in my life, where I am in motion and where I am at rest.

Just days before my friend Jim died, he said, “I hope you start to sew again.” It was an odd, random thing for him to say—the wish of a dying man—and his words haunt me. Since his death more than four years ago, I have sewed a bit, but not started sewing in the way he meant.

Sewing is pure joy for me. In a very short time, I can transform a piece of fabric into a skirt or a dress. Sewing is magic and has always been a marvel for me.

create-sew

I recently saw a news clip about an art program inthe Detroit public schools. As a glass blower changed a rod of glass into a vase, the camera captured the amazement on the faces of the children in the class. I could relate because art stirs the wonder of the child within me. Sewing is an art form that delights and transforms me.

So why have I not been sewing?

create-prayer

“I started sewing,” I told my mother the other day, and I know she hoped I would say I was working on her curtains. I had bought the fabric weeks ago and prepped it, but then did not sew the curtains. I don’t know why, but I just haven’t been able to get started. Inertia.

On that day, though, I did thread the needle and do a little mending, small projects that have been sitting on my sewing machine table for months, begging for my attention.

I have inertia around my prayer, too. I spend time in quiet every morning, but am I really praying? I read scripture and Morning Prayer. I journal. But actually praying, having a conversation with God, an open dialogue, listening for God’s voice, God’s direction? Like sewing, all the pieces are in place, but I seem unable to jump in and do it.

My inertia, I believe, is caused by the losses of the past six years; being at rest is a natural part of the grieving process.

I see signs though that I am moving through my inertia. Studying Polish, gardening, baking and cooking are all activities I have resumed after a time of being at rest.

Threading the needle to mend may have been the first step toward sewing, and a week’s retreat this winter will hopefully rekindle my prayer life and help me to re-engage more fully in life.

create-prayer

 

Making friends with my shadow

One of my earliest memories is an incident that happened when I was four years old. I had found a dime in the yard and was running to show my mother when my older brother intercepted me. “That’s mine,” he said. I did not believe him, but I knew he would take it from me, so I swallowed it.

Twenty-five years later, soon after I started seeing a therapist, I shared this memory. “And you’ve been doing that ever since,” my therapist said. “What?” I asked obliviously. “Swallowing every threat and hurt,” he replied. That gave me something to think about.

Over the coming weeks and months, my therapist and I talked about all the hurts and rejections that had been too painful for me to deal with and how I had “swallowed” them—stuffing them down deep inside. I came to realize that I had a whole other person living within, a shadow side, made up of all the dark things I had not dealt with.

My therapist helped me to see how I was acting out of these buried feelings, and he encouraged me to look at these past hurts. He actually suggested I “befriend” those things buried deep within. Befriend them? I thought not. I could barely stand to look at them let alone think of them as friends.

But in time, I came to see more clearly how I was acting and reacting out of my past hurts and knew something needed to change.

My therapist help me understand that the things buried in my shadow side could not hurt me again—they were all in the past—and I was no longer a vulnerable child who could not defend herself. I was an adult who could make choices about how I reacted to events in my life. I had options.

I prayed for the grace to face the things buried in my shadow side and asked for Jesus’ gentle   touch to heal the memories and close these open wounds. Healing scriptures became personal invitations from God. Yes, I wanted to see. Yes, I wanted to walk. Yes, I wanted to be healed of my hemorrhaging.

Eventually, I became more comfortable staying with past pains when they surfaced, rather than stuffing them back down as soon as I started to feel any discomfort. I got to the point where I could look more objectively at my past, and rather than denying them, I began to incorporate my hurts into my story.  I could see how my past had shaped me and helped me be more accepting and compassionate. The wounds were transformed into gifts.

Lots of practice has helped me move more quickly from having my buttons pushed to figuring out what pain is being touched. Just the other day, a friend reminded me of an event from a few years ago. She did not know that the event had been painful for me, and I did not know I was still holding onto that pain. But at her reminder, I felt myself becoming defensive. Awareness is the first step. I pray for the grace to be healed of this hurt, knowing that befriending it will transform into a gift.