Tag Archives: trust

Love is our destiny

Every day brings us holy moments,

chances to glimpse unconditional love and

unlimited forgiveness.

We only need look for them,

be open to them,

expect them.

If we are looking elsewhere,

if our hearts are closed or we are

expecting an insult or betrayal,

we might miss these gifts,

these moments of grace.

Look up with anticipation of seeing beauty,

and then bring that beauty in.

Let it touch your heart and soften any hard edges.

We were meant to love and be loved,

as much as fish were meant to swim and birds to fly.

Love is our destiny.

Reflections from a day of kayaking

Two friends invited me to go kayaking on the Thornapple River in central Michigan, and I gladly accepted.

Kayaking is one of my favorite outdoor activities because it offers an easy way to be on the water surrounded by nature. Kayaking requires minimal strength, and on the Thornapple River, the current did most of the work. We had to steer around some fallen trees and other debris, but the water was relatively calm and the trip downriver peaceful.

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Photo from Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy

Nature gifted us with sightings of deer along the riverbank and herons standing in the water. There were more turtles than I could count, lounging on fallen logs along the river’s edge.  

Being carried along by the current, I rested my paddle and looked up into the canopy created by the trees. Although mostly green, a few had started to change to fall colors and some leaves even fell into the kayak along the way.

I remembered a meditation about trees and how they change every season without resistance.

They seem to trust that even though their leaves are dying now and they will be dormant over winter, in the spring, new leaves will bud and grow to cover them again. Every year the cycle repeats itself, and the trees move naturally through the cycle. They don’t resist the changes—the death of autumn or the new growth of spring. They just do what trees do, living the cycles of their lives.

Be the tree, I said to myself. Let go of what needs to die and trust that something new will grow in spring.

When I lowered my eyes and looked at the trees at water level, I realized that the riverbank had eroded, and the roots of most of the trees were exposed. I wondered if that exposure weakens the trees and makes them more vulnerable.

The words of St. Paul came to me: When I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Be the tree, I said to myself again. Let your roots be exposed and risk vulnerability.

Yes, I thought, I want to be like trees and let go easily. I want to accept the changes of life as they come and move gracefully through each season. I want to let my vulnerabilities show, to be less certain and more open, less fearful and more trusting.

A little further down the river, I had the opportunity to lean into my vulnerability—I fell into the water in a less than dignified way. I was not hurt—just drenched. And like the time I had to climb a tree to get over a barbed-wire fence in England three years ago, I was grateful no one was videotaping the escapade.

Letting go of my pride and laughing at myself moves me along the path to humility, the path of accepting my vulnerability. Those few minutes of embarrassment were part of the hours of peaceful contentment kayaking down the river, helping me be the tree and embrace whatever comes.

Let the river carry you

Leaves gently falling onto the river,

just a few these first days of autumn.

How would it be to fall into the river and

be carried away,

past farm and forest,

floating freely?

Is it too late to start again?

To step into the river and let it carry me away?

To let go of all that I have been clutching,

all the history that fills my heart,

taking up all the space and

leaving no room for what might come.

Be the leaf.

Let go and fall into the adventure

that awaits just around the bend of the river.

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.

Keeping perspective during challenging times

I love to read novels and mysteries. Last month, I read American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. I had requested it from the library before the pandemic, and when it finally came in and I started to read it, I found the subject matter quite difficult.  

American Dirt tells the story of a woman and her son fleeing a Mexican drug cartel and joining other migrants coming to the United States. It is a harrowing story of riding atop trains, making snap decisions about whom to trust and the deep desire to stay alive.

After American Dirt, I needed something lighter and so I read one of David Rosenfelt’s books about Andy Carpenter, a lawyer who also happens to be a dog lover. Rosenfelt’s writing is laugh-out-loud funny, and I appreciated the break from the seriousness of American Dirt. I recommend Rosenfelt’s books for some light reading (and an inside look at life in New Jersey).

Then another book I had requested before the pandemic was ready for pick up at the library—The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. A few pages into this book, I realized it was about a family in France during World War II.

Normally, I like to read books about that era because they remind me of how evil can take root and grow in a society.

But my life feels heavy enough right now, and once I realized the subject matter of this book, I was tempted to stop reading. But I didn’t because I think it is important to remember what people have endured, how they survived, and how some can even thrive after enduring horrific atrocities.

The Nightingale tells of two sisters, each facing the invasion of France in her own way—the younger sister joins the resistance movement while the older sister remains in her home waiting for her husband to return from the front. Her home is sequestered, and her life becomes one of daily challenges for food and safety.

Although I was resistant to reading about the difficulties of these life situations, these books were just what I needed to read during this time when my usual routines have been interrupted. There have been times when the grocery store shelves were fairly empty, but that inconvenience lasted a few weeks—not the four years of the German occupation of France.

The requirement to keep social distance and to wear a mask can feel arbitrary because the virus is an unseen enemy. I would know to hide from an invading army driving tanks through our streets and not complain that I was being inconvenienced by having to stay inside if I saw my neighbors dragged from their homes and shot.

These books remind me that most of my challenges are really inconveniences that can be managed. Torture, starvation, and other atrocities of war are real problems. I am grateful that I have not had to face those kinds of trials.

I will gladly stay home or wear a mask to stay safe.

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.

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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?

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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?

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?

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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?

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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.

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It is both simple and challenging.

What are you pondering during this time?

Spending time in the desert

Elijah was in a cave when he heard a voice say, “go outside and stand on the mountain…the Lord will be passing by.” He then heard God in a “tiny whispering sound,” asking why Elijah was there. Elijah explained that the people have turned against God and killed all the Lord’s prophets; only Elijah is left. The Lord says, Go, take the road back to the desert…(1 Kings 19:9-15)

That last line caught my attention, and as I meditated on it, the words that came to me were: Turn around and face your demons.

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Nine years ago, I went on retreat in the desert near Albuquerque, New Mexico. I stayed in a small hermitage on the grounds of a monastery.

One of the monks at this monastery had written a book about spiritual writing, and I had asked if he would work with me on my resistance to writing.

A common theme in previous retreats had been writing—as in God inviting me to write about my relationship with God. I was resistant. It was a dance God and I had been doing for many years—God inviting me to write about our relationship and me saying, no thanks.

My God relationship felt too personal to share. It began when I was only eight years old and even at that young age, I knew to keep it to myself.

We didn’t talk about personal things in my family and a mystical experience of God I had when I was eight years old was very personal. I did not share that experience nor how my relationship with Jesus developed over the years.

When I was fifteen, I remember thinking that one day I would write a book and the first line would be, “Ever since I was eight years old, I knew God had chosen me in a special way.”

I had the opening line, but actually writing the story—well, I figured that would come later. Nine years ago finally seemed like the time to start writing.

The monk had suggested I walk with Moses during my days in the desert and try to learn from Moses what he needed in order to do what God was asking of him.

That retreat, nine years ago, focused on the courage I needed to share my God story. Like Moses, I had been telling God I was not capable. Like Elijah, I had been running and hiding.

It took another two years for me to start writing this blog and sharing my spiritual journey, but my time in that desert hermitage was a major step in helping me to turn around and face what frightened me.

One session during my recent on-line retreat focused on the desert mothers and fathers, and I thought back to my time in that hermitage in the desert.

This time of isolation is the desert in another form, and I ponder what interior desert I am traveling now and what demons I am being invited to face.

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Courage

I was trained in the School of Don’t Tell

and learned my lessons well.

Guarding my secrets like an oyster guards her pearl,

shut tight,

a sharp knife the only thing that can pry it open.

If I were cut open, my secrets would be like that pearl,

waiting to be discovered, to be gazed at,

like a multi-faceted jewel to be examined in different lights.

Can the oyster open herself to reveal her pearl?

Can I open myself and reveal my secrets?

Perhaps she has the courage,

but I do not.