Tag Archives: trust

God-vulnerability-faith

Suddenly

One of the readings at Mass on Pentecost Sunday was Acts 2:1-11. When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly…

The word suddenly caught my attention—and held it. Throughout the rest of Mass and in the days since then, I have been repeating it.

Everything changed for the disciples on the first Pentecost. In one moment, the old life was gone; a new life started.God-vulnerability-faithI thought of times in my life when suddenly everything changed. My own Pentecost experience on March 7, 1973, was a life-changing encounter with the Spirit. I had new hope and vision after that encounter. Life looked different; the possibilities seemed endless.

That was a good suddenly.God-vulnerability-faithThere have been other times, though, when things changed suddenly, but not in a positive way. Jim’s cancer diagnosis was like that. One day, he was fine and then, suddenly, he wasn’t. Life looked different, but the possibilities were not evident.

Fortunately for me, in between those two events—the first when I was twenty-one and the second when I was fifty-nine—I had plenty of other times when my life was going in one direction and then changed course. All of those course shifts taught me the importance of restoring balance as quickly as possible—and of trusting that no matter the direction, God was always with me.

But, why now did this word take hold? What is the significance?

I prayed for insight. Every time I found myself repeating the word, suddenly, I would ask God, “What is the invitation in this word?”

The next weekend at Mass, our pastor talked about personal missions—not going on mission or being a missionary—but rather having clarity about my specific mission, God’s plan for me with my exact history, gifts, skills and talents.

One would think that by my age, I would have great clarity about my life mission, especially since I have spent most of my life working in mission-driven nonprofits.

But then I think of Sarah and Elizabeth having babies in their old age, and I know that God does not have the same expectations of age that we do.

The thing about sudden events is that there is no way to anticipate them or to plan for them. But there is a way to live that makes it easier to receive them.

For me, that means letting go of expectations, dropping my defenses and keeping my cynicism in check. It means being open and vulnerable and willing to be born again in the Spirit.God-vulnerability-faithNext Friday is the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, an invitation to ponder unfathomable love and an invitation to keep my heart open to receiving and giving love. If I can do that, the Spirit’s sudden movement will be a breath of fresh air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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hope-cancer-God

Hope transformed

Spirituality was the topic of one of the presentations at the recent cancer caregivers workshop I attended. About two-thirds of the way through her talk, the speaker told the story of a family member who had been in treatment for cancer. When the doctor told them there were no more treatment options, the presenter said, “We gave up hope.”

Gave up hope? How could they give up hope? Without hope, we despair.hope-cancer-GodHer words were so jarring to me that I had difficulty listening to the rest of her talk. I wanted to stand up and shout, “Go back to that part about giving up hope.” But I didn’t.

Instead, after the talk, I composed my thoughts and shared with her how upsetting her words had been to me.

I suggested that hope is not restricted to life versus death, that it is not a one and done kind of thing. Hope can be transformed; it is malleable, adaptable.

I told her that when my friend Jim was diagnosed with a very aggressive, non-curable brain cancer, I had no hope he would survive it and accepted that he was going to die. His neurosurgeon was quite clear and definitive—short of a miracle, there was no way that Jim would survive Glioblastoma.

Some people grabbed onto that hope of a miracle and were convinced Jim would be miraculously cured.

I chose to accept the neurosurgeon’s prognosis; I am actually better when I accept the reality of a situation. Ambiguity and abstraction can make me anxious; facts steady me.

If a miracle had happened, I would have been absolutely ok with that; but, in the face of scientific fact, my hope went in a different direction.

I hoped Jim would survive surgery and live long enough to understand what was happening to him. I hoped he would have the strength and grace to accept his condition and to make peace with himself and God. I hoped he would be able to look back on his life with gratitude. I hoped that he would die peacefully.

I also hoped that I would be able to step up to the challenge of caring for him and helping him to live out the rest of his life as fully as possible. I hoped I would see God’s invitation to me and be able to respond.

I believe that in the cancer journey, hope must be transformed—again and again—to meet the challenges of the roller coaster ride of cancer. Giving up hope means giving in to despair.

Correlating hope with cure can put so much focus on the future that the present is overlooked. All of the goodness and blessings that are happening right now can go unnoticed.

For me, accepting the reality of Jim’s situation helped me to focus on the present and live in the moment. I knew every day might have been his last, and so I tried to make every day our best.

Death is inevitable; hope brings life.hope-cancer-God

 

 

anxiety-God-emotions

Aware of emotions

One of the sessions I attended at the Center for Mind Body Medicine’s Cancer Caregivers training was called Mobilizing, Transforming and Celebrating Emotions. The presenter talked about the need to be aware of our emotions and to express them through movement, drawing, writing, etc. He talked about catharsis and coming into balance.

The presentation was followed by a small-group session where we were led through a guided reflection to help us become more aware of an emotion that was affecting us. We then expressed our awareness through a seven-minute writing exercise—a dialog with that emotion.

Anxiety was the emotion that presented itself to me both during the presentation and again during the guided reflection. The group leader suggested some questions to bring greater awareness of situations we experienced the emotion and ways it was impacting our lives.anxiety-God-emotionsMy dialog with anxiety went like this:

Me: Where do you come from? What do you want? What can I do to lessen your impact on me?

Anxiety: Lessen my impact? Who said you need to lessen my impact or that I want to move out of your life?

Me: I want you gone—or at least I want you to be less powerful and have less control in my life. I want to be at peace, not to have my stomach clench when I am asked a question or when an emotion arises. I want to be able to live in joy and not guilt, to be confident and not second-guess myself, to trust my experiences of affirmation. I want to be proud of my accomplishments and to believe in my capabilities.

I think—I believe—that I can only be free to what “new” God is doing in my life, to actually trust it and embrace it if my anxiety lessens.

Coming to this workshop, I can see how much my anxiety has lessened by what I share—and I can see how much anxiety I still have.anxiety-God-emotionsAnxiety: Perhaps that is the secret—trust and celebrate every, single time you push against me; every time you move against your resistance and fear. Take it in, Jim used to tell you. So, I say it, too. Take it in. I am part of your ancient history. You are not that little girl any more. You can protect yourself. You know what you need to be safe and free. Do that.anxiety-God-emotions

 

fear-trust-faith

Trust

I think that my blog post last week sparked my thinking about the ways fear has impacted my life. Since writing about love lost, I have been flooded with memories of other occasions when I made decisions based on fear rather than trust.

How many times have I lost love because I was too scared? How many missed opportunities for love have there been?

Fear is useless; what is needed is trust, I tell myself over and over. But living those words continues to challenge me.fear-trust-faithI recently watched Inside Out, an animated film about the emotions that influence our lives—joy, fear, anger, disgust and sadness. Riley, the girl in the movie, grows up in a loving family; when she is eleven, her father’s work takes the family from Minnesota to California. Everything changes, and she goes from primarily being joyful to being terribly angry. In her anger, she loses trust in her parents and makes decisions that are clearly misguided.fear-trust-faithAs I watched the movie, I wondered about my own decision-making history. I wondered how many times my family and friends have watched me make decisions based on fear or anger—and stood by shaking their heads at my misguided choices.

After I had lived in l’Arche for about six months, I came back to Pennsylvania for a two-week holiday. My friends were shocked at my appearance. In those six months, I had lost twenty pounds or so and apparently looked unhealthy. I knew I was fatigued and generally unhappy, but my friends’ reactions were alarming.

“You can’t go back there,” one friend after another told me.

Not go back? I had to go back. I had made a commitment.

But, like Riley in the movie, I was having a really tough time. Change can be so difficult.

How could I admit—after just six months—that I had made a mistake or that I could not do what I had set out to do? Pride and fear paralyzed me.fear-trust-faithGoing back meant my health would continue to suffer. Moving back after six months felt like a failure. Neither option held much hope for me; either way, I felt like I was a disappointment.

Looking back on that time, I can now see options and possibilities that were not clear to me then.

Back then, fear was motivating my decisions. Fear of failure, fear of looking weak, fear of disappointing. My judgment was clouded.

Inside Out shined a light on how memories stack up to create a preference or inclination. If I have lots of joyful memories, I am more likely to expect joy and to look for it. If my memories are sad, fearful or angry, I am more likely to see through that lens.

Moving from fear to trust is a conscious decision, and I have decided to recall two joyful memories every time sad or angry memories surface. Hopefully this small exercise will help tip the scales away from fear and toward trust.fear-trust-faith

 

love-hope-fear

Love lost

A few weeks ago, the movie Letters to Juliet popped into my mind and I couldn’t seem to let it go. I’d seen it before, but I decided to rent it.

The movie is based on a non-fiction book about notes posted on the wall outside the house of Juliet of Verona and the “secretaries” who respond to the notes. I have never been to Verona, but apparently there really is a house called Casa di Giulietta—Juliet’s House—at Via Cappello, 23, Verona, with a courtyard where people leave letters.love-hope-fearThe movie is about an English woman who abandoned her Italian lover fifty years earlier and returns to search for him.

As I watched this movie the other night, I remembered a man I had met more than thirty years ago.

I had gone with a friend to upstate New York to support her at the Seneca Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice. I was against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, so I resonated with the anti-nuclear message of this group.love-hope-fearBut the encampment challenged me in ways I had not expected, and my discomfort intensified throughout that first day. I was too conventional for this kind of demonstration and found myself thinking of how I could get away.

By the end of that first day, my inner voice was saying, Leave now and don’t come back.

My distress continued into that evening, and I went for a run to regain my equilibrium.

We were staying with my friend’s cousin at his farm. The countryside was beautiful—rolling hills, farmlands and forests. The run was somewhat strenuous, but it felt good to exert myself physically as I grappled with my emotional dilemma.love-hope-fearAnd then on a steep hill, something snapped in my back and pain shot down my leg. I stood on the side of the road, bent over in agony, sobbing—and far from where I was staying. Somehow I managed to hobble home and then crumpled to the living room floor. Someone brought me an icepack and aspirin.

For several hours I just lay there, feeling relief from staying still.

At some point, a man came into the living room and introduced himself as Ross, a friend of the people I was staying with; he lived in their renovated chicken coop.

For the rest of that day, Ross kept me company. He was a landscaper by trade, but a poet by temperament. We talked for most of the night.

The next day, my host took me to a chiropractor; one adjustment eased the pain enough that I was able to sit in a car for the ride home.

Ross wrote beautiful, romantic letters to me and even came to visit. He was smitten; I was scared.love-hope-fearI said the distance between Ithaca and Philadelphia was too great—and our relationship ended before it really got started.

And yet, there he was in my memory as I watched a movie about love lost and found.

 

 

 

God-caregiving-cancer

Lessons from caregiving

During my friend Jim’s illness, we received many cards expressing care and concern; and then after his death, condolences. I recently came across one of the condolence cards. The message read:

I know Jim was/is a good man…a good friend and is sorely missed. But for you a great source of comfort must be what a friend you were to him.

 “What you do for the least of my brethren that you do unto me” really resonates—not that Jim could ever be considered the least but he was/is a beloved friend who needed help and you certainly gave it.

 You also deserve and I’m sure will have a high place in heaven when you meet again. Thank you for a wonderful lesson.

I had read this note six years ago, but reading it now, the last line caught my attention and I felt invited to a deeper understanding of my taking care of Jim.

For me, being a caregiver meant thinking of Jim first. When asked about anything else, I would say, “Right now, my focus is on Jim,” while gesturing with my hands to show my tunnel vision.God-caregiving-cancerI was committed to giving Jim as much independence as possible and letting him make as many decisions as possible.

I had learned this lesson from my mother. When I was a child, my Uncle Steve came to live with us when he got cancer; my mother cared for him until he died. The sacrifices she made for him, her brother-in-law, showed me what caregiving was all about.

Similarly, when my dad had a major stroke, my mother honored his wishes not to go to the hospital. We called in hospice, and my dad spent his last three months of life at home.God-caregiving-cancerSo, what I did for Jim was what my mother modeled for me. I was certainly not thinking of any lesson; I just did what I could for him. Only recently have I started to consider the magnitude of my caring for him.

The cancer in Jim’s brain weakened the right side of his body. Early on, he said, “I guess I have to become a lefty.” For most of the time he was sick, I was his right hand—bathing, dressing, shaving and feeding him. We walked up the stairs in tandem—his right foot resting on my left.

Jim was both very private and very proud. He did not want anyone else to help him. When he started to fall (one of the signs of end-stage brain cancer), it could take me up to forty-five minutes to get him up because he had so little strength to help. Once he was up, I would flex my biceps and joke that I was going to challenge Arnold Schwarzenegger to an arm-wrestling match.

Taking care of Jim was physically demanding; knowing that he was going to die soon was emotionally taxing; and putting his needs ahead of mine was spiritually enriching. So many lessons in one experience.God-caregiving-cancer

God-vulnerability-faith

God is in charge

Surrender to God and he will do everything for you. Antiphon in the Liturgy of the Hours Office of Readings for Tuesday of Holy Week.

I can easily forget that God is in charge. In my relationships, my work, my volunteer activities and life in general, I can think that I am running the show and that everything depends on me. And then I can feel burdened, pressured to perform and sometimes overwhelmed.

Breathe, Madeline, I tell myself when I am feeling overwhelmed. You are not God. Everything does not depend on you. Surrender. Let God be God. Trust God.God-vulnerability-faithGod reminds me all that I do really belongs to God. I have a part, but it is just a part. My job is to add my piece to bringing about the Kingdom—in some small way. I need to remember that God holds the whole picture.

Letting go and believing that God really is in charge challenges my trust and control issues.

I am a doer by nature, someone who jumps in and gets things done. I like accomplishing things, and I like challenges. The bigger the challenge, the more I enjoy it.

There is a line, though, between using my gifts and talents to further a mission and believing that my gifts and talents are the only thing that can accomplish the mission.

My personality type on the Enneagram is the Eight, also known as The Challenger. The Eight is said to be “powerful, dominating, self-confident, decisive, willful and confrontational.”  Oh yeah, that’s me for sure.

God seems to play off my Eightness, my innate love of a challenge. My work life has been a succession of small nonprofits that were facing uphill battles. It is as if God hears me repeatedly saying, “Put me in, Coach,” even though I don’t remember ever saying it. But, once I am in, I am all in, taking responsibility and getting things done.

When I start to feel overwhelmed, though, I know that I have moved from being a doer to being a controller. It is then that I need to surrender to God and trust that he will do everything for me. It is then that I need to remember that God is really in charge.God-vulnerability-faithMy goal is to keep balance—to acknowledge my gifts and skills while remembering that the work is ultimately God’s. When I can let go and trust that God is in charge, my work and my life run smoother. Obstacles diminish; perspective is restored.

A Biblical image that helps me regain balance and trust is of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who were put into a fiery furnace because they would not turn from God and bow to the King. But rather than being burned God sends an angel to deliver them because they trusted God (Daniel 3:95)

Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who sent his angel to deliver the servants who trusted in him. God, send your angel to me.God-vulnerability-faith