Tag Archives: trust

God heals

At Mass last weekend we heard the story of Naaman being cured of leprosy after plunging into the Jordan River seven times (2 Kings 14). The passage immediately before the cure story, though, relates Naaman’s expectations of how a cure would happen and his disappointment when things went in a different direction:

But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not…the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage (2 Kings 5:11-12).

How often do we have an idea of what God should do in order to meet our needs? How often do our expectations limit our experience of God? How often are we like Naaman—so certain of how events should unfold?

Naaman believed he knew the best way for the cure to happen. When his expectation was not met, he “went away angry.” Sound familiar?

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I work in a cancer support center, and I see plenty of people going away angry—after a treatment does not produce the expected results, or family and friends don’t act in an expected way, or employers are uncompromising about time off or our bodies don’t rebound as we had hoped.

Letting go of our expectations can be so difficult. Like Naaman, we can be blind to the possibility of other options, stuck in our way of seeing things, certain that we know what is best.

But when we can let go of our expectations and be open to other options, we can make room for God to do what God will do. Sometimes that means a cure, but often it means a healing—of past hurts, fears or insecurities.

Letting go of our expectations opens us to endless possibilities.

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During the nine months my friend Jim had brain cancer, we had plenty of experiences of unmet expectations. Surgery and treatments didn’t work—the cancer came back with a vengeance—accompanied by more complications than we anticipated. And people often said or did things that were just not helpful, usually acting out of their own expectations.

Let go were the two words I said repeatedly.

And when I could let go of my need to be right or to be in control, I saw how God was healing me in unexpected ways. I wanted to continue to live in that state of openness, so I pledged to say yes to whatever was offered.

In the year after Jim died, saying yes led to all kinds of unexpected opportunities, including a trip to Paris! Saying yes kept me open and helped me see that God is bigger than anything I could imagine.

Sometimes, like Naaman, doing the thing that seems least likely to work is exactly what we need to do.

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Live in the calm

My friend Jim and I stayed at the New Jersey Shore for much of the winter he had brain cancer. Friends had generously given us their oceanside condo, and in between cancer treatments and visits to Jim’s mother, we made the Shore our home.

Jim had always loved being at the Shore. He saw God’s grandeur in the vastness of the ocean and God’s power in the roaring waves. “Look how big our God is,” he would say.

I saw it, too, but I don’t think as manifestly as Jim.

Until that December, when for five straight days, the ocean was completely calm, a sea of glass stretching out to the horizon. Every day, we marveled at the sight of the ocean without waves.

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To me, it was miraculous and a sign.

Every day that week, I pondered God’s power in the undisturbed water meeting blue sky at the horizon—a portrait in blue.

On the fifth day, as I walked along the shoreline, stepping on the remnants of seashells that the surf had deposited there, I heard God speak to me.

This is how you are to live. Leave everything that is sharp and broken at the edge and move out into the calm of the ocean. Live in the calm.

That memory came back to me the other day when a friend recounted her amazement at being at the ocean. She had just come back from a week’s stay at the Jersey Shore and was in awe of the sight of water stretching out forever and the unrelenting waves.

It was the reminder I needed at that moment because my mother had just been released from hospital.

During her hospital stay and its aftermath, I have been feeling like the tumultuous ocean. Being in the emergency room took me back to the hours I spent in a similar room when Jim got sick.

The worst day of my mother’s hospitalization was the one where she clutched at her throat all day, clearly in distress, and we wondered if she would survive. She did, and her doctor decided not to do any more tests. To what end? She is ninety-three.

We took her home the following day, and she is regaining her strength. Like Jim, my mother hates going to the hospital where she has so little control over what happens to her.

She is in God’s hands, I have repeatedly reminded myself since the day the ambulance came, in the same way I used to say Jim was in God’s hands.

I don’t know what God is doing with my mother, but I am clear that God is inviting me to let go and to trust that my mother is in God’s hands.

God invites me to live in the calm, beyond the raging emotions, the drama of relationship dynamics and my own fears of being vulnerable. God reminds me that I will find peace in the calm.

Let go, God says to me. Live in the calm.

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Grow in forgiveness

I used to tease a priest friend when he went to hear the confessions of retired nuns at a local convent. At their age, what sins could they possibly have to confess? “I took the last slice of toast at breakfast even though I knew Sister Matilda wanted it,” I would suggest, or “I hid the remote so that no one could turn off my program.”

That memory came to mind the other day as I reflected on Luke 5:38.

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As I get nearer the age of those retired nuns, I have a greater understanding that God still invites me to change and be renewed every single day—no matter my age.

Perhaps my sins are not as outrageous as the ones I committed when I was younger, but I know I am still a long way from being healed and made whole. I can see how I am dragging into old age the fears and insecurities that I have battled all my life and those tendencies that move me away from God. I have made progress, but….

The reflection question in my prayer booklet relating to Luke 5:38 read: “Following Jesus requires a new way of living. What has been hardest for me to change to follow Christ?”

The word forgiveness popped into my mind.

For me to follow Jesus in a new way, I need to change something about forgiveness.

This must be a blind spot for me because I think of myself as being fairly forgiving. Yet, when I considered the question, forgiveness was the answer.

Is it, I asked God, that I need to be more forgiving of others or of myself? Do I need to give more or receive more forgiveness?

Probably both.

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I recently had the experience of seeing someone against whom I held a grudge. I had not seen him in six years and over that time, I had prayed to let go of my negative feelings toward him; I wanted to be free of him. Seeing him now, I was able to approach him with no anger. “I have forgiven him,” I said to myself, and offered a prayer of thanksgiving to God for having given me this grace.

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But, obviously, I still have work to do in the area of forgiveness, or God would not have planted that word in my mind as “new wine.”

Like the retired nuns, I still sin. My thoughts and desires, where I give my energy, the grudges I nurse, my insecurities—are all old wine. Jesus keeps inviting me to something new, because to follow Jesus means continual renewal.

The teachings of Jesus offer new insights and challenges every day; each time I read Scripture, I am invited to dig deeper and see things in new ways.

These days, I am being invited deeper into forgiveness.

Jesus does not give up on us. He trusts that we are always capable of becoming the people we were meant to be. I love the hope in that.

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Spiritual experiences

During a recent radio interview, an author talked about a spiritual experience he had when he was eleven years old, and the interviewer asked if it wasn’t “unusual” for an eleven-year-old to be thinking about spiritual things.

The interviewer’s question and tone startled me. The word unusual translated to weird or odd for me, and all I heard was judgment. I thought, “Just because it didn’t happen to you does not mean it is unusual!”

In that moment, I remembered the times I have been called some version of unusual because of my spiritual experiences and how my fear of judgment made me resistant to sharing anything about my prayer life or my relationship with God.

The courage of some people to share their spiritual experiences has always amazed me. But I have not been that courageous. When I got the “isn’t it unusual…” response, I shut down.

I always wanted to fit in—not stand out, so I learned to keep my “God things” to myself, pondering them in my heart but telling only a few people.

Now, though, I am ready to own what others might label unusual. I have finally stopped worrying about fitting in—or at least stopped letting my worry silence me—and want to share what God has shown me. I have been so blessed by my relationship with God and my spiritual experiences; perhaps sharing them will bless others.

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This week I was in Philadelphia, the city where I spent most of my adult life, and I visited some old friends. I tested the waters of my newfound courage by speaking about some of my prayer experiences with friends who have known me for a long time but with whom I had not shared many of my spiritual experiences.

I told them about a particularly intense time of prayer that I call my garden year. This was after college, a time when I was uncertain about my future and was discerning what to do with my life.

During this year of prayer and discernment, I had several visions, including this one:

I saw myself in an old, stone cathedral, the kind with thick walls and no pews. I was lying prostrate on the floor and could feel the hardness of the floor and the coldness of the stone on my face and arms. Then the floor began to shift, and I was being raised up. The floor became a hand, lifting me and supporting me. “I’ve got you,” God said to me.

Reflecting on this vision, it seemed that God was telling me that no matter what kind of work I chose or where I chose to live, God would always be with me—holding me and protecting me. It was a great comfort to me during that time of uncertainty and anxiety.

In the years since my garden year, I have often recalled this vision and the message of God’s personal care for me. God’s love in that moment still comforts me.

Creating space for the spiritual

My grandparents came from Poland, and my parents spoke Polish as their first language. They learned English in school but spoke Polish at home. Their religious training—what my grandparents handed on to them about the beliefs, customs and the rituals of their faith—was also in Polish.

Like many people who learn English as their second language, my parents spoke with an accent, and they were self-conscious about it. I don’t know what kind of ridicule they endured, but it was enough that they did not want their children to be treated as they had been, so they decided not to teach us Polish. They wanted their children to fit in and be like other Americans.

But because my parents’ faith was expressed in Polish, my religious instruction was limited to what I learned at weekly catechism classes.

I was not aware of the impact of this until I became an adult and began to see how little I knew about my faith. “I missed that lesson,” was my common response when other Catholics spoke about matters of faith. There was so much I did not know.

I did not even know how to pray the rosary!

At some point in my young adult life, though, I realized that my ignorance of Church teachings had not gotten in the way of my developing a relationship with God.

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From the time I was eight years old, I knew God had called me in some special way. I seemed to see things from a slightly different angle than others, and I drew conclusions that left adults baffled. My father used to say, “You didn’t learn that in this house,” when I would offer an opinion that was shaped by my relationship with God.

Through the Sunday readings, I had gotten to know Jesus’ story well enough to feel close to him. He became a brother to me.

I loved the Palm Sunday reading of the Passion. Jesus’ anguish in the garden of Gethsemane was my anguish. His cry to God—why have you abandoned me?—was also my cry.

Jesus, like me, was an innocent victim.

Jesus got me in a way no one else in my life did, and I was so grateful for this connection. I felt like Jesus saw me and understood what I was going through, and I leaned into that relationship.

I could talk to Jesus about what was happening in my life, and I shared my fears and anxieties with him, knowing he was not going to tell anyone. I trusted him completely.

My spiritual life grew out mystery and grace, and my lived experience of Jesus drew me closer to God.

I began to go deep within myself to that space at my core where God dwelt, where God’s spirit lived as a small flame. By the time I was a teen, I could sit in silent meditation for long periods of time, happily connecting with Jesus and the Spirit of God within me.

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What is unique to you?

I have started thinking about retirement, and I know myself well enough to know that even though I will stop going to an office every day, I will need to do something, because I am not good at being idle.

I have been asking in prayer what God wants me to do in the next chapter of my life and have made lists of possible ways to fill my retirement—from dog walker to non-profit consultant.

Some days, I long to do something that requires very little thought or preparation, and other days, I feel a responsibility to pay forward what I have learned from my work.

“What is uniquely yours?” my spiritual director asked when I raised the subject of my next chapter. She believes I have a responsibility to pass on what God has given me, a message I have heard from her before and others throughout my life.

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I have had so many “unique” experiences—from living in l’Arche and serving as a Mennonite volunteer to leading a lay mission program that took me to different parts of the world. I have been blessed!

Since that conversation with my spiritual director, I have tried to be more attentive to what might be uniquely mine and how God may be inviting me to share what I have been given.

Each fall, I co-facilitate a day of reflection for our local Jesuit Volunteers, a group of post-college young adults who are dedicating a year to service in Detroit. My talk is on the spirituality of community, and I base most of my talk on my experiences in l’Arche.

I talk about my failures in community living and how my unrealistic expectations got in the way of being a good community member.

Lots of people fail at living in Christian community, so that is not unique to me, but being willing and able to talk publicly about my failure might put me in a more rarified group.

Prayer is another part of that talk, and I share some practical tips about theological reflection and Lectio Divina—also not uniquely mine, but perhaps my take on prayer is unique to me.

Then, two weeks ago at my book group, the topic of spirits came up. We were discussing The Turner House by Angela Flournoy, the story of an African American family living in Detroit. One of the sons in the story encounters a haint, a spirit that is part of some Southern traditions, which led to the discussion of spirits and our experiences of the supernatural.

I shared one of my mystical experiences, something I rarely do, because I have spent my life trying to seem normal, typical, ordinary—and having mystical experiences is anything but normal, typical or ordinary.

It was an aha moment—my mystical visions are unique to me. Throughout my life, God has given me intense prayer experiences and visions that have helped me, but which I have rarely shared with others. Is that my next chapter?

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Be God’s

“Let go of everything,” I thought as the Reiki Master placed her hands on my head.

Then I heard the words, “Be God’s.”

Be God’s what? I wondered. Vessel? Daughter? Voice?

Or is the emphasis on “be,” as in belong to God?

Throughout the Reiki treatment, I tried to let go of thoughts about work and other responsibilities and instead pondered the message to “be God’s.”

Over the next few days, I kept repeating those two words—”Be God’s.”

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What does it mean to be God’s? to belong to God?

I think of myself as already knowing my dependence on God and being God’s creation, so what is this invitation?

Some of the saints came to mind and the ways they were God’s, the ways they lived their lives totally for God and God’s glory.

St. Frances Cabrini prayed, “Help me to desire always that which is pleasing and acceptable to you so that your will may be my will.”

I aspire to that kind of intimacy with God, but I haven’t achieved it. Just ask anyone who knows me.  

That very morning, in fact, just hours before the Reiki treatment, I made a big mistake when I misread a situation. So often, I speak before I think, and then I need to apologize. This was one of those incidents.

Sometimes, when I mess up, I send flowers, but always a note just to make sure the person knows I know that I made a mistake.

In response to my blunder that morning, I had spent that day wondering how to atone. I knew I needed to do something beyond just saying “Sorry,” because one word was not enough to undo the harm of my offensive words.

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But that is the thing about God and about being God’s—God never gives up on me and keeps calling me back, again and again. Only hours after I mess up, I hear God saying, “Be mine.”

Was this simple two-word phrase simply a reminder of God’s forgiveness? Of God’s love?

Or was it tied into something bigger, more comprehensive? Is God inviting me into a new way of being in relationship?

Monday was the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, the woman who most inspires me in my spiritual journey because of her devotion to Jesus. When everyone else fled, Mary Magdalene remained, and when she encountered the resurrected Jesus, she proclaimed it with confidence. Her relationship with Jesus healed her and changed her.

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I want to be like Mary Magdalene—devoted to Jesus, open to being surprised and ready to witness to the ways Jesus enters my life.

St. Paul wrote “…whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away…new things have come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

This reading reminds me that who I once was I am no longer; who I will become is still being revealed. I pray to be open to the what God is offering because more than anything, I want to be God’s.