Tag Archives: transition

On a journey

I signed up for Ignite the Fire, a five-week, virtual program presented by a Martina and Pat Sheehan who live in Cork, Ireland, and who facilitate retreats and offer spiritual direction. Two years ago in May, I was supposed to go on retreat in Wales with Martina, but Covid happened, and my retreat did not—at least not in person. Martina and Pat have offered several on-line retreats since then, and I have appreciated their offerings.

In the first session, we heard about two Irish saints whose feast days had just been celebrated—St. Brigid (February 1) and St. Gobnait (February 11). (I imagine St. Gobnait may be a new name for some of you; I only learned of her a few years ago.) Both Brigid and Gobnait were seekers, which was a theme for the first session.

We were invited to ponder the quote “anything is possible” (Luke 1:37), and Martina talked about being a pilgrim, embarking on a journey and seeking places of resurrection.

Most any talk of a journey resonates with me (which is why my blog is called On a journey).

Since leaving my job last summer, I feel like I am back in pilgrim mode, seeking and trying to be open to what comes my way.

After seven years in the same job, I am exploring options for using my experience, skills and talent in some way other than a job at one organization. I am exploring various avenues (e.g., non-profit consulting, spiritual direction, officiating at weddings and funerals) and trying to keep an open mind when opportunities are presented (e.g., the man who called me the other day and asked if I would be interested in being a project manager at his company, which is something I have never done before).

In the first session of Ignite the Fire, we also talked about some basic dispositions toward life and were asked to pick one as a journaling prompt. These included:

•           Living with uncertainty

•           Seeing setbacks as opportunities

•           Letting go of trying to control the uncontrollable

•           Practicing altruism.

A memory came to me of a talk about managing stress. The speaker talked about a crisis being both a danger and an opportunity. Since that memory came to me, I selected seeing setbacks as opportunities as my journaling prompt.

Setbacks have been part of my life journey as far back as I can remember. Learning to see the opportunities in those setbacks took me a while to develop, but once I came to fully believe that every curse has a blessing, I handle setbacks with a little more ease. I don’t look forward to them, but I am not completely thrown by them as I once might have been. I can still be disappointed, but not devastated.

We are nearing the start of Lent, which is also a journey toward resurrection, a pilgrimage, and I am looking at Ignite the Fire as a way to help me be more aware of where God is calling me.

Pilgrimage-God-Lent
Some day, after mastering the winds,
The waves, the tides and gravity,
We will harness for God the energies of love.
And then, for the second time,
Humankind will have discovered fire.
(Pierre Teilhard De Chardin)

I am on the case

Last week, I went to Lewes, Delaware, to help a friend settle into her new condo; she had moved from Newport News, Virginia, two weeks earlier.

“I’m on the case,” I said when she could not find her house keys.

I love solving mysteries. Where were her keys? She knew they were in the house but where could they be?

Mystery-God-faith

We retraced her steps, with no luck. We searched the garage and kitchen. She searched her bedroom. I asked if I could go through her coat closet, and she said yes. And there, inside the pocket of her white coat, were the keys. She hadn’t remembered that she had worn that coat earlier in the day. Mystery solved.

We had several other mysteries during my time with her—mostly moving related (“where did I put…?” “which box has…?”).

My younger brother also loves to solve mysteries, like tracking down the guys who broke into his garage and stole some equipment—he followed Craig’s List until he saw his equipment listed and then called the police, who set up a sting.

He attributes our doggedness in solving mysteries to the fact our dad was a cop; I attribute it to our mother’s insistence that we never give up when we were searching for something.

I remember a friend in college marveling at my persistence when she could not find something, and I was unwilling to let go until the mystery had been solved. She had been raised to let go and replace.

I love most everything associated with mysteries—novels, plays, movies and television shows.

The funny thing is, though, that despite the fact that I love to follow the clues and solve the mysteries in my everyday life, there are many other mysteries with which I am completely comfortable.

For example, mysteries of faith and miracles I can accept with complete confidence. Somehow, I can trust that there are some things we cannot solve or unravel; acceptance is the only solution.

In that way, I think I am contrary to most people—those who can let go when something is lost (and rush to replace it) and yet question faith and distrust miracles.

I think my comfort with mysteries of faith helps me be able to sit with people who are suffering and dying. I don’t ask why someone is ill or why there is suffering. I accept that suffering, illness and death happen. They are part of life. I appreciate that there is nothing to be done, no answers to be found and no clues to follow.

At times of sorrow and grief, I believe that acceptance is more helpful than questioning. Finding meaning in loss is more about being grateful for what has been and gathering the gems of good memories to cherish.

I am grateful for my approach to different kinds of mysteries because solvable mysteries, while they may take a great deal of time in the process, are solvable. Mysteries of faith are just that—mysteries.

Mystery-God-faith

Letting go of what was to be open to what is to come

The image of the trapeze artist letting go of a swing, suspended in air before grabbing onto another trapeze artist, has been appearing to me lately, perhaps because I have been practicing letting go of both my job and my daily routines around my mom. I am like the trapeze artist in mid-air—I have let go of what was, but I have not yet grabbed onto what is to come. I am in transition between what was and what is to come.

vulnerability-grief-transition

I think this situation is common in grieving a death. We are forced to let go of how the relationship was because the person is no longer physically with us, but imagining what the future will be like without that person can be a challenge.

This kind of letting go happens in other situations, too—divorce, change of location, loss of job, illness, leaving school, etc. What once was is no longer, and what is to be is still unfolding.

Sometimes we hold on for too long to what has been, past the time when it is good or healthy for us. I have tended to do that with relationships that would have been better off ended, but because of loyalty, guilt or fear, I have stuck around. I have also done that with jobs—stayed past the time when I knew the job was not working for me, that it was constricting or toxic.

Letting go and the changes that come with it can be difficult. I crave what is familiar, even when I know that the familiar is not in my best interest. I like routines and traditions and often cannot see another way.

When I left my job, I prayed to be open. I want to see what is possible, and the best way to do that is to stop clinging to what was, to let go and to allow myself to live in this in-between place, to become more comfortable with a lack of routine, with the unknowing. I keep reminding myself that I can only receive something new when my hands are open and empty.

Letting go of what was to be open to what is to come

The image of the trapeze artist letting go of a swing, suspended in air before grabbing onto another trapeze artist, has been appearing to me lately, perhaps because I have been practicing letting go of both my job and my daily routines around my mom. I am like the trapeze artist in mid-air—I have let go of what was, but I have not yet grabbed onto what is to come. I am in transition between what was and what is to come.

I think this situation is common in grieving a death. We are forced to let go of how the relationship was because the person is no longer physically with us, but imagining what the future will be like without that person can be a challenge.

This kind of letting go happens in other situations, too—divorce, change of location, loss of job, illness, leaving school, etc. What once was is no longer, and what is to be is still unfolding.

Sometimes we hold on for too long to what has been, past the time when it is good or healthy for us. I have tended to do that with relationships that would have been better off ended, but because of loyalty, guilt or fear, I have stuck around. I have also done that with jobs—stayed past the time when I knew the job was not working for me, that it was constricting or toxic.

Letting go and the changes that come with it can be difficult. I tend crave what is familiar, even when I know that the familiar is not in my best interest. I like routines and traditions and often cannot see another way.

When I left my job, I prayed to be open. I want to see what is possible, and the best way to do that is to stop clinging to what was, to let go and to allow myself to live in this in-between place, to become more comfortable with a lack of routine, with the unknowing. I keep reminding myself that I can only receive something new when my hands are open and empty.

The best is yet to come

My life has been turned a bit upside down recently by my mother’s death and my leaving the job I have had for the past seven years. Two big losses at the same time and lots of empty space in front of me.

No more dinners with my mother or shopping for her or calling or stopping by to check in.

And no more work emails or office to go to or meetings to attend.

I have to admit that it is a bit scary to stand in front of this vast empty canvas without the commitments that have structured my life for the past years. And yet…

God-vulnerability-transition

I have decided to view the coming year as a sabbatical, a time to pause after thirty-five years of working in nonprofit management, to reflect on and say goodbye to what has been, and to prepare for what is to come.

Almost as soon as I made that decision, two retreat opportunities presented themselves—one is focused on discernment for people in transition and the other is for writers. I had not been looking for either one, but both seem opportune, and I signed up for them. One is virtual, and the other is in Texas—my first flight since the pandemic lockdown in March 2020.

As a child, I had no idea what I might be when I grew up—no passionate hopes or dreams to be this or that. As an adult, I tended to fall into jobs more than selecting them with a goal in mind.

So here I am in the third third of my life, still deciding what I want to be when I grow up. Only now, I have lots of experience and a pretty good idea of my gifts and talents.

And that knowledge and awareness energizes me—standing on the precipice of the next chapter in my life is thrilling.

My friend Jim used to say, “The best is yet to come.” I am in total agreement, and I am looking forward to what the next chapter of my life holds.

God-vulnerability-transition

Check your ego at the door

I once belonged to a networking group of about a dozen people, all leaders in our field. One of the ground rules for our networking sessions was to “check your ego at the door.” We all claimed to be “servant leaders” which would imply that our egos would be kept in check, but the reality was that when two or more successful people got together, a game of one-upmanship often ensued.

Some of these people had international reputations; others were leaders in our local community. The “ego” rule made it possible for us to meet as equals. If someone started name-dropping or praising their own achievements, another member would gently recall the rule. It got to the point that only one word was needed to rein in an inflated sense of self. “Ego,” someone would say.

ego-humility-leadership
hum

I have often thought of that rule, especially when working with nonprofit boards which are usually made up of successful community leaders. I gently remind them that the most important thing about nonprofits is the mission, and I invite them to stay focused on advancing the mission of the organization rather than focusing on their individual contributions.

I am fortunate that my dad was not into hero-worship; he often said that everyone “puts his pants on one leg at a time.” No one was any more important than anyone else in my dad’s eyes. His attitude has stayed with me, and I think it has served me well. (I do have to admit, though, that I was somewhat starstruck the time I was standing next to Ray Charles at JFK Airport and when I was sitting just a few feet away from the Pope.)

Competition is a cornerstone of capitalism, and it is common to encounter successful people who love to tell you how they built up their company or scored some big deal. My eyes tend to glaze over during those monologues; I am much more interested in those who praise all the people who made their success possible.

My friend Ted was one of those people. He was a successful lawyer, well-known in his field and treated like a big deal at his work. He was very generous with his resources and often donated to the nonprofit where I worked—always requesting anonymity. “Don’t let your right hand know what your left is doing,” (Matthew 6:3) was one of his favorite Bible quotes.

ego-humility-leadership

I think all of this has come to mind because I am leaving my profession to embark on the next chapter of my life. When I told my boss I was leaving, she repeated something she has said to me several times since our two nonprofits merged a few years ago—she is amazed that I gave up my job as executive director and set aside my ego for the sake of the mission.

Perhaps it is unusual; for me, though, it was remembering to stay focused on the mission and to check my ego at the door.

The path

Walking the trail through the woods,

leaves cushion my steps and gently rustle

as I make my way.

The sound takes me back to childhood,

to autumns long past,

walking to school through fallen leaves,

shuffling my feet to scatter them.

Lost in that memory,

the sound of a twig snapping underfoot

startles me.

I jump and apologize,

as if the twig were still alive

and I had somehow injured it.

But the twig had already been broken in its fall.

Like the leaves, its life has been given over to cover the ground,

to soften the way and

to call out to me to pay attention to my path.

Raising my sights

A local summer tutoring program offers middle school girls the opportunity to visit college campuses so the girls can see themselves at college—literally. These girls will be the first in their families to attend college, and physically being on a campus helps them to visualize college as part of their futures. These visits plant a seed and create both a memory and a dream.

Growing up, college was not in my future. My parents forbade it, believing that education was wasted on a girl. In their worldview, the best I could hope for was to marry and have children.

When I moved to Virginia after high school and people at work asked me about two well-known universities in Michigan, I had nothing to say. I did not even know which school was where, because those schools were not part of my life and no one had taken me to a college campus to help me see myself there. I had neither a memory nor a dream.

When I was twenty-six, after working at the FBI for seven years, I enrolled in college to get my degree so I could become an FBI agent.

After graduation, my FBI plan fell apart, and I felt I was back where I had started—without a dream of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I landed in the nonprofit sector, which has been a good career that drew on my talents and developed new skills.

Last week, I was talking with my spiritual director about my future—as in what am I going to be when I grow up.

Ok, so maybe I am already grown up chronologically, but since my mother is ninety-four and still independent, I figure I may have another whole career ahead of me.

Some of my friends retired in their fifties or early sixties, but that was not financially feasible for me. Some of them are spending their retirement volunteering at nonprofit organizations that serve people who are marginalized and vulnerable. My work has been about helping people who are marginalized and vulnerable, so I feel like I have spent my working life doing what they are doing in retirement.

My spiritual director is encouraging me to discern my next steps with an eye toward where God is calling me and to ask, “What is it that only I can do?”

I am starting to dream about my future in a new way. I want to raise my sights and be open to the vocation God is calling me to, even if it seems farfetched.

I have started to pay more attention to what catches my attention—new words, phrases or ideas that give me pause or that inspire me to follow up. I am exploring options with the awareness that I have nothing to lose by reaching out and asking questions.

It is exciting to think about my future as a blank page, just waiting for me to dream a new reality into being.

Tethered

Tethered to the past by memory and history,

moored to what will never be again.

Like a boat bobbing on the water,

rocking gently,

comfortable in its lethargy.

Time passes by.

I look around,

hoping to find what has been lost.  

Who will I be if I let go of what was?

Cut the rope and

let the current carry you to new shores.