My Heart-Breaking Journey

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Monday, June 18th, was the day it all began. At 11:30 PM, my husband and I were woken up by my sweet, kind, strong, healthy 16-year-old son, Peter, having a seizure. It was shocking and scary, and the worst feeling of helplessness I've ever felt in my life. We called 9-1-1, he was rushed to the nearby hospital, medevaced to another hospital, and then our family's nightmare began.

It turns out Peter had a golf-ball sized aneurysm, and it had bled. Doctors performed a risky, four-hour surgery that next day to close up the aneurysm. It was successful, but then we spent two full weeks with his life in the balance battling complications. Throughout that time, I kept meditating on the story of Jesus calming the sea. I felt like my son and I were on the boat in the middle of the storm, and I was praying so desperately for Jesus' calming touch. 

Doctors put him in a drug-induced coma. When that wasn't enough, they performed a craniotomy to allow room for the swelling. For two straight weeks, a different doctor was coming in every few hours to talk about something life threatening or heavy. Slowly... ever so slowly... he started improving enough to take him off the coma-inducing drug. 

We spent six days waiting for Peter to wake up from the coma. During that time, I would match my breath with his, breathing in "yah" and breathing out "weh". I trusted that Yahweh (God) was in us, with us and for us. I visualized the breath of God breathing life into Peter and into his brain. I've shared this breathing prayer in so many retreats, but I never in a million years pictured using it like this. 

While coming out of the coma, every eye fluttering, reaction to his favorite Bruno Mars song, or hand squeeze felt miraculous during those six long days when we had no idea what to expect when he would wake up. Will he have the same personality? Will he be able to connect with us? Will he be able to move his right side ever again? The doctors cautioned us, but slowly the answers were yes... yes... and yes... It all felt nothing short of miraculous.

For the next five days we watched him recover exponentially. Nurses commented they'd never seen someone improve that fast. We could connect with him and started to understand some of his words with the help of speech therapy. He took his first couple steps with physical and occupational therapists. He texted and snapchatted some friends. On the evening of Wednesday, July 11th, he was released from the pediatric ICU, and we moved onto a new floor to start rehab. This was a huge victory. I spent that night with him in his room. The next morning on Thursday, July 12th at 6:30 AM, I left to get a coffee for myself and the Dr. Pepper he wanted. (He still couldn't swallow or eat but we could put swabs on his tongue). When I returned, I found a few nurses trying to help Peter. His nurse said he had sat up in bed and collapsed. Within a matter of seconds, there were probably 50 people trying to help him. It was a chaotic scene, and I just sat on the floor in disbelief.

Peter's aneurysm had re-bled. He was rushed to surgery for a couple hours, but the hemorrhage was too great. My husband and I were called in to hear the words no parent wants to hear. "I'm sorry. There was nothing else we could do." 

Thankfully, Peter was on life support so we could say good-bye. He was brought back to the Pediatric ICU room he had been in the past three and a half weeks, and we called in family. We had a couple hours to spend with him individually and as a family praying over him til the end. Peter's grandparents, aunt, uncles, two priests from his Jesuit high school, and our chaplain prayed, shared memories of him, and walked him into the hands of God. I held onto his leg and arm and kept saying, "Just keep walking sweetheart. There you go, you're walking into the arms of God. You will feel so much love. He will give you peace. Just keep walking, there you go, good job. Just keep walking sweetheart." As a mom you want to walk with your child into every phase of life. I never thought I would walk my baby into the arms of God. As heart-breaking as that moment was, I will be forever grateful I could be there through his very last breath. This will give me a sense of peace amidst the pain for the rest of my life. 

This is all so new and shocking and raw to absorb. I'm just in the beginning stages of my grief, and so I have nothing to say that wraps this up into a package that makes sense or offers wisdom. I will say God's presence has been felt in profound ways through family, friends, priests, chaplains, doctors, and nurses who are nothing short of God's angels on earth. We have so many people to thank. 

I'm sharing my story with you because some of you already know, and for those who don't, I want to be honest about where my head and heart will be during this retreat season. I will still be offering our fall day and online retreats starting September 15th, Your Balance, Your Peace: Finding Contentment in the Rhythm of Your Life. I will be slow and probably forgetful this year as I spend time doing all of the suggestions I offer in my retreats: prayer practices, journaling, reading, listening to music, quiet time reflecting, and sharing my story with safe friends who will sit with me without trying to "fix it". I will also take my advice on vulnerability. I will reach out for help and lean heavily on others, especially the Retreat, Reflect, Renew's board of compassionate women who are committed to serving you. I trust God will help me be wherever I'm supposed to be from moment to moment.

Now more than ever I care about the concepts in this upcoming retreat on balance, which are foundational to all of my retreats, my book, this ministry, and my life. Healthy choice-making and setting boundaries in order to live an intentional Christ-centered life are concepts I started learning about fifteen years ago when my son was one year old and I started my spiritual journey. The journey of developing a personal relationship with God with an active prayer life, learning how to own my "yeses" and "no's" when it comes to choosing Christ-centered friends, community, and commitments are a big reason why I feel held in God's hands during this tragedy.

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My husband, daughter, and I miss this precious boy so much. Peter was funny, kind, inclusive, and full of joy. He was always dancing and making us laugh (the day after his funeral a friend posted on Instagram a video of him dancing to the beat of the fire drill during summer school!). More importantly, he was a rock and a spark of joy for so many of his friends and family. One friend told me, "Peter's the kind of guy who brought out the best in people." With God's grace we'll learn to form a new relationship with Peter in Heaven, and we'll figure out how to carry this sadness while living a purposeful life that is connected with God's joy and goodness. 

So many of you have experienced deep suffering, and you've graciously shared that in our retreats. My heart aches for you as well, and we are united in prayer. I look forward to the day when I feel strong enough to take all I've learned about this and share it with you. I believe we can get through our suffering in a meaningful way when we are open to God's grace in our sharing, learning, and growing together in God's mystery of life. 

 

If you are wanting to reach out to me or would like to share something about your journey of grief that can help all of us, please comment below so everyone can see and feel the beauty of a faith-filled community of sharing. You don't have to subscribe, just write a comment in the box, click on "post comment", and enter your name. You don't have to fill in your email or name a website to comment as a guest. 

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Learn more about Your Balance, Your Peace: Finding Contentment in the Rhythm of Your Life

DAY RETREAT                      ONLINE RETREAT

Do Nothing. (Sound scary?)

June is here and that means it's summertime. It's time to enjoy longer days, warm nights, and hopefully the gift of fewer obligations that will allow for a slower pace to relax, read a book, or get together with friends.

Or maybe... just maybe... do nothing. 

Yes. I said "do nothing". Does that sound wonderful? Or a little scary? 

If you feel like you're always trying to keep it together, follow a strict routine, or you're busy taking care of everyone except yourself, it's time to give yourself permission to do nothing. At first, that may sound absolutely delightful! Try it and you may admit it feels a little scary. When you stop and intentionally give yourself time off from your "to-do" list and obligations, you're all of a sudden in a quiet space alone with yourself and your thoughts. You may welcome this or you may be scared of this. 

I'll be honest. After hearing about the suicides of designer Kate Spade and then CNN's chef and author Anthony Bourdain this week, I wondered how a reflection encouraging people to be alone with their thoughts would be perceived. I started trying to think of new ideas to write about for this month's reflection. I concluded that this is the perfect subject to confront. We live in a loud and complicated world full of manufactured images that tell us a busy life is an important life which will make us happy. This can leave us feeling the pressure to put a lot of time, energy, and money into being busy and keeping up with others. Feeling sad, confused, lonely, or angry may feel wrong or uncomfortable to admit to ourselves or others, but they're important feelings to allow time to surface and explore. 

In light of this week's suicides, I want to be sensitive as I invite you to be alone with your thoughts. I encourage you to seek professional help if you sense that time with your thoughts is taking you to a dark and dangerous place. For those who are needing to unwind or sort through things, think about what giving yourself time to "do nothing" looks like for you. It may mean giving yourself time to sleep, cry, hang out on the couch, or go for a walk. It may mean allowing yourself time to feel confused, lonely, sad, or joyful and grateful for the life you have and the friends and family who surround you. 

If you lead a very busy life, you may need to schedule time in your calendar to "do nothing". Here are a few suggestions to schedule time for yourself this summer.  

  • Consider taking Fridays off for the summer to give yourself time to "just be".
  • Set boundaries with family or friends so you can carve out a few hours for yourself. 
  • Set a timer every day for ten minutes to sit in silence. 
  • Take a time out from technology, which can cause anxiety. 
  • Recognize how much TV you're watching and assess the right balance for your mental and spiritual health. 

When you allow yourself quiet time, you're leaving open a space for God's grace to emerge. Sometimes that means allowing feelings to surface so your heart and soul feel cleansed and ready to move on. Sometimes that means moving through an issue slowly so you can better discern where God is leading you. Sometimes it means stopping to recognize all of the good in your life and allowing for a moment of gratitude.

In light of this week, keep in mind that God's grace can also come in the form of professional help. God put a lot of amazing people on this earth who are skilled to walk us through pain and sadness. Cooperating with God's grace can be about seeking out a family therapist, psychologist, spiritual director, or compassionate friend. Or it can be about offering to get help for a friend or family member. 

Most importantly, when you make time to do nothing, make time to do nothing with God. Let yourself rest in the arms of a loving God. 

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
— Matthew 11:28-30

 

By the way, if you're going through a life transition, you may be interested in our online retreat that starts Monday, June 11th. You can jump in on the retreat even if you're a few days late. Register here. 

I would love to hear your comments. Do you ever schedule time to allow yourself to "do nothing"? 

Looking for a real friend

Faith-filled friends

In a few hours we'll be hosting 55 people at our annual Faith and Friendship Celebration so my mind is on faith-filled friends right now. I'm thinking about the gratitude I feel for the friends I can share my spirituality with, and I'm thinking about the people I talk to who yearn for real friends in their life.

There are so many people who feel isolated. Some of them are surrounded by people, but the loneliness comes from not having anyone to share their faith with or call when there's a problem. Others simply don't have many people in their life and are looking for more connection. Whichever category you're in - and even if you do have plenty of faith-filled friends - I encourage you to take a little time today and think about the values you care about in a friendship. The more you practice these values, the more meaningful and dependable your friendships will become. 

Values in friendship

Here are some of the things I value in a friendship. What are yours?

Affirmation. When I share my fears or concerns with a friend, I appreciate when he or she doesn't try to talk me out of the feeling or tell me why I shouldn't feel that way. When I'm scared or stressed, all I need is a safe place to share. 

A Listening Heart. I appreciate when my friends listen without giving advice. Sometimes I ask for insight and feedback, but many times I just need to vent. Listening without trying to "fix-it" is a sign of respect and it's empowering. You're telling someone you support them and know they are capable of working it out.  

Authenticity. I care about friends being honest and real and true to themselves with me. I don't enjoy being with people who are trying to impress me or pretend that everything in their life is perfect because everything in my life sure isn't perfect. It's nice to have an authentic conversation.  

Confidentiality. I appreciate having friends who I can trust will not share whatever I'm sharing. 

Looking at these values I can't help but notice they are many of the same "rules" we suggest in our retreats, especially during the small group sharing in our day retreats. I hope you'll spend some time reflecting on them and creating a list of your own. It's also a good time to ask if you're providing these values to others. Practicing these values and creating additional ones can open the door to deepening friendships and creating a safe space to share your faith. 

Many of these values are summed up in a prayer we'll be sharing today at our event. I hope you'll join us in spirit by praying this today. 

A prayer of thanks for the gift of good friends.

By Scotty Smith. Edited. 

Heavenly Father, I cannot imagine how storms can be navigated, burdens borne, and hardships handled without the company of a few good friends. 
I praise you today for the gift of friendship—for the joy, encouragement, and refreshment you give me through my friends.
When we walk through difficult and draining seasons, we’re inclined to think, “No one can possibly understand what I’m going through."
That’s when the gift of long-standing, all-weather, burden-bearing friends becomes especially precious.
Father, I praise you for the gift of hearing my friends say these two words: “Me too.” 
I praise you for friends who know how to “refresh the hearts of the saints”—including this saint. 
I praise you for friends who remind me of the truth and power of the gospel, of the love of Jesus, and of the bigger story you are always writing.
I praise you for friends who share their lives and not just their gospel. I praise you for friends who offer tears and not just their answers. 
I praise you for friends who give life-giving wisdom and not just mess-fixing formulas.
Father, my all-weather friends turn my heart heavenward. They simply remind me that the foundation and fountain of all good friendship is found in the gospel. 
It’s overwhelming, settling, and centering to hear Jesus say to us, “I no longer call you servants… I call you friends” (John 15:15). 

I'd love to hear from you. What are important values to you in a friendship? 

Letting go and being authentic

Stepping out

That's it, I decided, as I prepared for The Journey Within day retreat we held last weekend at Mercy Center Auburn. If I'm going to give a retreat on the true self, I'm going to have to allow my true self to show up for it. I can't spend six hours empowering women and men to grow into their true selves and facilitate the whole thing out of my false self. I was scared but I knew I had to get outside of my comfort zone. 

Oh, how I love my binder

Usually when I prepare for a day retreat, I spend a lot of time reading, reflecting, praying, and writing. I write out everything I want to say, put it together in a binder, and follow the script pretty closely. As a result, I'm totally attached to my binder. Oh, how I love that white binder with the front pocket stuffed with prayers and plan B handouts so I have anything for any situation.

That binder is my security blanket, my crutch, my insurance that the retreat will be perfect and I won't miss one thing. For those who attended and those currently in the online retreat you probably see where this is headed... 

Confronting what I was scared to confront

As I prepared for this retreat and personally reflected on all of the things that get in the way of me being my true self, I confronted what I had been too scared to confront: being dependent on a perfectly crafted script means facilitating out of my false self. Putting my energy into making sure I perform, please, and perfect (my false self) means I'm not putting enough energy into channeling God's grace in the room (operating out of my true self). This was going to be scary. What if I forget something? What if I do something out of order? I was nervous about being so vulnerable. 

 Being open and trusting

The false self is not bad. I've done a lot of good while trying to have things perfectly planned, organized, and delivered, but that false self doesn't leave enough room for God's love to flow through me. When my energy is in the performing, pleasing, and perfecting, I'm creating a block between me and God. I was ready to be open and trusting and allow God to facilitate this retreat. 

I still spent a lot of time reading, writing, and praying but this time I wrote a few notes for each power point slide and left a lot of room for flexibility and room to "hear" where the spirit was taking all of us that day. A lot of this material was material I have prayed and written about since I started writing my book eight years ago. I didn't need to make sure every last word was presented perfectly. I needed to make sure I was present to The Spirit.

Enjoying grace and peace

The result? A beautiful and grace-filled day. I didn't need to be preoccupied making sure I remembered every last detail, I needed to be focused on when I needed to stop and allow for quiet, a song, a quote, or comments from the amazing women and men who provided so much wisdom for all of us that day. 

now it's your turn

We have a few more weeks left of Lent now. I hope you give yourself some time to reflect on all of the things that get in the way of you being authentic with the people in your life. A need to prove yourself to others? A need to prove your worth to yourself? Or to God? When you put all of your energy into your image - whether it's about pleasing, perfecting, performing, or something else - you create a wall between you and the people around you. That wall leaves little room for the Holy Spirit to enter into the conversation. 

Allow these last few weeks of Lent to be a time to appreciate all that you are in God's name and sit with this quote we enjoyed reflecting on at our retreat: 

O God, Help me to believe the truth about myself, no matter how beautiful it might be.
— Macrina Wiederkher

I'd love to hear your comments if you've ever stepped outside of your comfort zone to give more of your authentic self. Or are you looking for the courage to be more authentic? I'd love to hear your thoughts. We're in this together. 

Am I Doing This Wrong?

I've heard these complaints so many times from people trying to pray in silence or be more consistent in their prayer life. Can you relate to any of them? 

I get restless when I try to sit still because I feel guilty I should be getting something done.

I have so many thoughts racing through my head I can't focus. I'm just bad at praying. 

I don't feel peaceful when I pray. Everything I'm angry or worried about comes to the surface. I'm just doing it wrong. 

Do those sound like any of the problems you have in prayer? Or any of the reasons you never want to take the time to pray? If so, you can take comfort that you're not alone. Far from it!  

First it's important to say that anything can be a form of prayer if you're making an intention to connect with God. Anything that you're doing in union with God can be a form of prayer. I feel like I'm in prayer when I write. Others will say they feel they're in prayer when serving the homeless. You can be making breakfast, driving to work, standing in line at the grocery store and you can be intentionally making the choice to enter into relationship with God. 

If you're wanting to spend more time in a contemplative space and enjoy more quiet time with God, and you feel frustrated with the experience, there are some helpful things to keep in mind that I found in Joyce Rupp's book, "Inviting God In". She says there are signs to listen to if you're feeling frustrated, restless, or as she puts it, "bored". Rupp says: 

  • "Boredom may be telling us that we need to enliven our prayer, try some new approaches, be open to a different way to envision God, or be more open and honest with God."
  • "Boredom may be telling us that our human spirit is at a low point physically, mentally or emotionally. It may be teaching us patient endurance or faithfullness."
  • "Boredom may be trying to draw us into accepting the "being" aspect of prayer which is very difficult for Americans who always want something to show for their efforts."
  • "Boredom and not wanting to pray might be teaching us that we have to let go of thinking that we are the ones who make prayer happen. It could be a very graced time of learning how to surrender to God, the source of our growth."

Rupp says your prayer time will not always produce good feelings. There will be times when it doesn't feel good because you're having to let thoughts or feelings that have been hidden in your heart rise to the surface. Try to stay in honest conversation with God during those times and eventually you can find that "God continues to embrace us as lovingly in the darkness as in the light."

This month's blog is an excerpt from my online retreat coming up on "The Journey Within: Finding Yourself in God's Endless Love". The more you develop your prayer life, the closer you can feel to God, which means the closer you can get to your true self. Who am I and Who is God are the two questions we're talking about during the online retreat that starts March 5th, 2018. Learn more right here. 

I'd love to hear about your experience in your prayer life. What do you do when you get bored praying? How do you find new prayer practices? 

Stop Waiting to be Perfect

Waiting to be perfect? 

How long are you willing to wait until you're perfect? 

I recently learned that Michelangelo created David from a piece of marble that had been twice discarded by two other sculptors. When Michelangelo finally got his hands on it, the marble had been waiting for 40 years for someone who was up to its challenge. 

Waiting to be perfect for God?

This brilliant work of art was created out of an imperfect piece of marble. And it took 40 years before someone decided it was worth using. When I heard this, it took my breath away.

Can you relate to my questions?

At the time, I was reading and reflecting a lot about the true self in preparation for my upcoming March retreat, The Journey Within, and I couldn't help but be overwhelmed by the metaphor. How many times have I not used one of my talents for fear it's not perfect enough? How many times have I waited to do something I felt a little God nudge to do but didn't pursue it for fear it wasn't the perfect time? How long have I waited to be perfect before making myself available to God? Can you relate to my questions? 

Stop waiting. Start uncovering 'the lies we believe' 

Whether you think you're a perfectionist in your daily life or not, I invite you to reflect on whether you have perfectionist tendencies in your faith life. Dr. Chris Thurman in his book, "The Lies We Believe" lists the false narratives we carry around that can damage our emotional and spiritual health. Reflect on them. Do any of them resonate with you? 

1. God's love must be earned.

2. God hates the sin and the sinner. 

3. Because I'm a Christian, God will protect me from pain and suffering. 

4. All my problems are caused by my sins. 

5. It is my Christian duty to meet all the needs of others. 

6. A good Christian doesn't feel angry, anxious, or depressed. 

7. God can't use me unless I'm spiritually strong. 

Be open to humility 

The common thread in all of these is the belief that you have to be perfect for God and for others. If I'm perfect God will love me, my life will go well, and my life will mean something. With this way of living, there's no room for humility, which is really all God wants from you. God doesn't ask you to be perfect, but to be humble. God doesn't ask you to know everything, but to trust. God doesn't ask you to be more than you're capable of but to be honest when you're frustrated, tired, or upset. It's in that state of weakness you're able to be open and hear the small still voice of God trying to reach you.

Be open to sitting with God

How do you work through all of these false beliefs? By allowing yourself to sit with God. Spend time in prayer without an agenda and a list of things to fix. Simply rest in God's loving arms and know that is enough. Know that YOU are enough. It's in that raw and honest moment of humility you can find peace in all the imperfection. If you feel like an imperfect piece of marble that isn't worth using, stop yourself. Ask yourself, How can I be open to allowing God to carve away and uncover all of the beauty in my perfectly imperfect self?  

Author Joyce Rupp sums this all up in one of my favorite poems. You may recognize it from my book. 

The Perfect Cup
By Joyce Rupp

    It is time for me to see the flaws of myself
and stop being alarmed. 

It is time for me to halt my drive for perfection
and to accept my blemishes. 

It is time for me to receive slowly evolving growth
the kind that comes in Gods own good time
and pays no heed to my panicky pushing. 

It is time for me to embrace my humanness
to love my incompleteness. 

It is time for me to cherish the unwanted
to welcome the unknown
to treasure the unfulfilled.

If I wait to be perfect before I love myself
I will always be unsatisfied and ungrateful. 

If I wait until all the flaws, chips, and cracks disappear
I will be the cup that stands on the shelf and is never used. 

Reflect & Share 

Do you struggle with perfection?

Do any of the "lies we believe" resonate with you? 

Share some tips and insight: How do you work on allowing God to love you for you? 

Would you like my monthly reflections sent to your inbox? Sign up here. 

               

Spiritual Mentors and Time

Have you ever felt a stirring in your heart? You sense something is changing within you - a calling to do something different, a hunger for more meaning in your life, or a yearning to be closer to God? You're not sure what it all means but you desperately need a safe person to affirm what's going on inside of you. 

That was me fifteen years ago when I walked into Father Michael McKeon's office. I had just started participating in a spiritual growth ministry, the Ministry of Mothers Sharing, and this big and confusing spiritual awakening was happening within me. I felt alone and stressed in all of my questions. The pastor of my church at the time, Fr. McKeon, saw the Holy Spirit working in me and affirmed that. He was one of the first people to do so, and last week I said good-bye to him as he passed away on Thanksgiving day. He empowered my spirit with books to read, homilies that challenged me, and availability to talk whenever I needed it. 

Saying good-bye to Fr. McKeon is making me reflect on the importance of spiritual companions and mentors. I don't know where I'd be today without the three people who took the time to affirm and empower the Spirit unfolding in me during that time: Fr. McKeon, Sister Paula Hagen from the Sisters of St. Benedict and the foundress of the Ministry of Mothers Sharing, and Colleen Gregg, the director of Mercy Center Auburn. These three people saw my awakening and encouraged me to air out my feelings, thoughts, and questions in a non-judgmental way. They made me feel like I wasn't crazy! They showed me the face of a merciful and generous God which made me less intimidated to form a personal relationship with God. They were gentle, loving, kind, and... well Fr. McKeon was more direct and gruff... but that was refreshing for me and I loved it. All three of them created a sacred space for me to talk freely. 

Do you have a spiritual companion or mentor? I think this is one of the most significant things we can do for ourselves and for others while committing to the spiritual journey. Many times - but not always - these are people who are older in age. Sadly, we live in a society that dismisses people when they start to age, but many times these are the people we need to seek out and learn from the most. Wisdom comes with age. There's a depth you cannot get anywhere else. They've seen struggle and pain and tragedies so they are honest about the journey of life, the questions that are impossible to answer, and the mystery of God. These are not people who are there to "fix" your problems, but rather to listen and allow the Christ in themselves meet the Christ in you. They won't give you perfectly packaged answers to your questions. Instead, they will offer insight so you can see you're slowly living into your own answers.  

Maybe you're reading this and feeling like you have something to share. You do. Your life experiences - good and bad - impart a piece of wisdom that is unique to you. If you catch yourself wanting to talk to someone about their experience of God but don't want to intrude, I urge you to allow yourself to take the risk. Not in a way that is giving advice. Not in a way that is fixing a problem. Give the gift of listening and affirming and sharing your story. This is one of the most beautiful ways you can serve others and share Christ's light. The more I bridge the subject of spirituality with people, the more I see the yearning people have to talk about their experience of God. You'll immediately know if it's a conversation the other person is willing to enter into and the majority of the time it is. Know how important it is to share your truth so others can find theirs. 

Most importantly, make time in your life to listen. As I'm writing this, I'm remembering that I once met with Fr. McKeon and at the end I said, "Father, you're so busy and you just took all this time listening to me. I feel so bad. Thank you so much for your time." And he looked at me with this face that seemed to say, "What are you talking about?!", and said, "But that's what time is for." I took that to mean, What else are you supposed to do with your time but be right where you're called to be to serve? What else are you supposed to do with your time but to be present and to listen? 

Father, thank you for reminding me what time is for: to be present, to listen, and to serve in a way that gives thanks to God for all that we are and all that we have. I'm a woman in constant tension with her to-do list. I can get so wrapped up in the 'work of God' that I forget to do the work of God. 

We have just entered the season of Advent: a time of waiting and listening. May your Advent season be full of moments of waiting and listening to yourself, to others, and to the voice of God. May you find opportunities to share what you hear with a spiritual companion, mentor, or spiritual friend. 

I leave you with the Stewardship prayer Fr. McKeon had us read every Sunday. His passion was serving the poor and marginalized:

O Merciful God,  

You are the provider of all that we are 

and all that we have. 

You open wide your hand to provide

for the needs of every living creature. 

Make us always grateful for your loving mercy and

grant that we may be faithful stewards of your gifts. 

Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who, with You and the Holy Spirit, 

lives and reigns, one God, forever and ever. 

Amen.

Reflect & Share 

Do you have a spiritual mentor? Or have you mentored someone? How has that relationship enriched your life? And if you want to take the time right here in this space to thank them, please feel free to do so.

 

Gratitude feels different now.

I admit I'm tired this week, and so I looked up what I wrote last year on gratitude to see if I could use it again for this month's reflection. 

But I can't.  

After several months of natural and human disasters, gratitude looks and feels different for me this year. Thinking of all of the lives lost in the hurricanes, fires, and shootings, my thank you feels almost desperate, Thank you, God, my family is alive.

Thinking of all of the people who lost their homes and everything inside, my thank you feels a little shaken, Thank you, God, for the safety and security of my home that could be gone within seconds.

I'm also reflecting on my daughter having just left for college in the fall and all of the women and men who shared in the Life Transitions online and day retreats in October. My thank you for the gift of friends and faith sharing feels even deeper than before. Thank you, God, for the people who help you through life transitions. 

Gratitude is an awareness that every moment is pure gift from God. The more I recognize this, the more I see there are no entitlements in life and the more I treasure each moment, each person, and each event in my life as a beautiful act of love from God.

So often when tragedy occurs, I find myself sitting in shock and sadness. The beauty of gratitude is that it takes that shock and sadness and turns it into a call to respond to others who are needing help. In this month of Thanksgiving, I will pray for the people in pain still dealing with the aftermath of so many tragedies. And then I'll be asking myself, how will I show my gratitude differently this year? How can I let people know I'm grateful for them? How can I give to others who are in need? How can I continue the cycle of love that our amazing Creator God started?  

Gratitude is not an attitude; it's a practice. To live a life of gratitude requires making intentional moments in your day to practice. The first step can be finding moments in your day to simply say thank you, God. As Meister Eckhart says, If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough. 

I want to share with you this prayer by Mary Jo Leddy from her book, "Radical Gratitude. " 

 

We are grateful.

You have given us this day

and have given us this way

to say Thank You.

We thank you for giving us

what we need to be grateful.

We offer back to You

all that we have

all that we are.

We know our thank you

is as fragile as we are

-it can be crushed

by the care of the moment

-it can disappear

in the heat of the day

-it can be blown away

by the winds of suffering.

And so we ask You

to take our small thank you

into Your great act of Thanksgiving:

You, Lord of the loaves and fishes,

You who are from God

with God and for God,

You in whom it is all

Yes and Amen.


May you experience the joy that comes from serving with a grateful heart. And if you're the one in need of help this year, may you allow yourself the freedom to be vulnerable and accept God's grace in the form of loving people around you.  

I'd love to hear your thoughts on gratitude. Do you have a gratitude practice? 

Is there anything you're extra thankful for this year? 

Where is God part 2

I sat down to write this month's reflection and began by reading last month's reflection. Part of me wanted to just send that one again this month. I can't believe there have been more tragedies since that time. Last month we talked about the devastating floods in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico and the earthquake in Mexico. Now we're in the middle of processing the Las Vegas shooting and in shock at the amount of families losing their homes and fleeing from the fires that are just a couple hours from me here in Northern California. The day I'm writing this there's an ominous haze of smoke from above that leaves me with a heavy sadness for all of the loss of life and homes and displaced families. 

If your heart is as heavy as mine and you're beginning to wonder when all of this is going to end, I hope you'll join me in prayer. Yes. Prayer. I've seen a few comments on Facebook and TV questioning how helpful prayer is at a time like this, which makes me sad. When disaster strikes, there's a feeling of helplessness. You may be feeling anxiety or fear, quietly worrying to yourself, Am I next? In these times, we have to go within and pray. 

Pray because there is power in prayer. 

Pray because it's the only way to feel trusting when you're full of anxiety. 

Pray because you'll hear how you are called to respond. 

In prayer, you re-gain your center and remember God is in charge. You're able to re-prioritize where you're putting your energy. Are you putting your energy into things that create more anxiety or bring a sense of calm and trust? In the silence of your heart, you can feel safe to stop running after the outside things you may be chasing for a sense of calm but aren't going to help. 

In prayer, you can begin to hear how to be a light in the world when there's too much darkness. Prayer isn't a passive act. In the midst of tragedy, how are you called to give? To serve? How are you called to share Christ's light to the immediate people around you so they don't give up hope? In the silence of your heart, you'll be reminded Christ's light will always shine through the dark. Most importantly you'll be reminded to share that light.

I'd love to hear your prayers... whether it's a full prayer that brings you comfort or a one-sentence prayer from your heart you'd like to share with us. Let's pray together... and ask together... "Lord, hear our prayer." 
 

Where is God?

I'm guessing I'm not the only one staring at the TV and listening to the radio thinking, What in the world is happening? One day I'm checking on my friend's son in Texas near the floods, the next I see my step-brother and sister-in-law evacuating from Florida to escape Hurricane Irma and the next day I read my cousin's post on Facebook telling us they are all scared but safe in Mexico after the 8.1 earthquake there. 

My heart is heavy as I'm sitting here praying and feeling awful for so many people living in fear and helplessness. Meanwhile, I'm also here finishing up writing my online retreat on "Life Transitions: Finding God in the Center of the Unknown and thinking... there must be so many people out there wondering, where is God in the middle of all of this unknown? 

In my online retreat I talk about finding God in the center of the unknown through surrendering to the mystery of God. What else can you do when there are disasters, tragedies, difficult questions, and let's face it - difficult people in this world. When you surrender to the mystery of God, you're not waiting for things to be certain, resolved, or perfect in order to trust God. You accept that life is imperfect. There are tragedies or life situations that may rob you of the life you planned out for yourself.

When you surrender to the mystery of God your trust in God is no longer conditional.  You find a new way of life that does not look for a happiness dependent on transitory situations but rather focuses on the richness of God's grace and the comfort of God's mercy. 

There can be resistance to entering into the mystery because it means there are questions left unresolved. You're forced to let go of the way you planned things or the way you were raised to believe would happen. As you look at your own resistance to surrender, reflect on the following points on what surrendering to the mystery of God is not. 

  • Surrendering to the mystery of God is not saying I don't care. Tragic things happen and your life may never be the same. Accepting the mystery of God is accepting the fact that life can get messy and you may be invited to accept a new normal.  
  • Surrendering to the mystery of God is not forgetting, it's forgiving. If someone hurts you, you may not be able to forget, but you can forgive. Accepting the mystery of God is a commitment to start the long prayerful process of forgiveness. 
  • Surrendering to the mystery of God is not condoning bad behavior. If a person or an institution has done something wrong, accepting the mystery of God does not mean you're supposed to ignore it, it means you accept human imperfection, listen to how God is calling your to respond, and then focus on finding God in the other places and people around you. 

None of this is easy. Surrendering to the mystery of God is a life-long journey. Usually a big change in your life or a transition from one phase of life to another is when you start asking the big and confusing questions that may not be able to be answered. If that's where you're at, I hope you'll join me for my day retreat and online retreat coming up in three weeks. Life's big questions can sometimes be overwhelming but when you find a sacred place to reflect and pray over them, they have less of a hold over you. Come join me on this special journey.