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. 

What if Mary was a helicopter mom?

While you're reading this I'm seven (but who's counting?) states away from home moving my daughter into college. My baby girl who I just gave birth to yesterday...I mean... almost 18 years ago is moving out and starting a new journey. Apart from me. 


"It's a new beginning!" "How exciting for her!" "This is a good thing!" My friends and family say to cheer me up. Yes, they're correct. Yes, I'm excited for her future. But there's also a little girl inside of me wanting to hold on to my baby girl and not let her go, which brings me to the title of this reflection, What if Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a helicopter mom?!

I know it's a crazy question. Let me bring you back to last spring when this question first popped into my head. I'm sitting in the pews of my childhood parish, St. Catherine's, on Good Friday during a re-enactment of the stations of the cross.

I'm so sad knowing my daughter is probably about to choose a college far from home and this will be the last Easter with her for a long time. With a heavy heart, I start watching the stations of the cross through Mary's eyes. I try to feel Jesus' crucifixion through Mary's heart and try to connect with her strength. From the honest and heavy corner of my heart, that little girl inside of me tearfully whispers to Mary, 

Did you ever let the fear and sadness get the best of you?
Did you ever want to say, 'Don't be out too late, Jesus, I need you here with me.'
Or, 'Don't say that, you'll offend someone and get hurt.'
Did your momma bear instinct ever feel tempted to hold Jesus tight and never let him go? 

All of a sudden I think, What if Mary was a helicopter mom?  

According to Wikipedia, the definition of a helicopter mom is a parent who pays extremely close attention to a child's experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions. For the record, I don't like the phrase because it's one more term for moms to use against one another but while I was sitting in my sadness during that Good Friday service that's the term that came to me.

At first when that question popped into my head I kind of laughed but then I decided to go deeper into reflection with it. What if Mary was controlling (and if it was a time when she could have the power to be controlling) and she never let Jesus out of her sight? What if Mary held onto Jesus for herself and didn't want him out teaching? What if she was too scared to let Jesus go and never allowed him to develop into all God called him to be? What if she made sure he never suffered? 

We know the answer to those questions. And because of the answers to those questions, we can draw strength from Mary's letting go. Her letting go meant there was a lot of vulnerability, fear, heartbreak, and suffering but it also meant there was a lot of new life, new hope, new meaning, and new growth. 

Mary had to let Jesus live his own journey apart from Mary. If she kept him close to her for her own needs, he would have never developed into all God created him to be for us. I'm not trying to compare my daughter to Jesus but I am trying to draw strength in all the beauty and life that comes from letting go and empowering someone to be all they are created to be. As I let go of my daughter, I know that I'm creating a space for her to grow and thrive. And I know that growth has to be done apart from me. 

Here's another exciting part to all of this that you'll like if you're struggling with letting go of someone or something in your own life: As I let go, I'm making room for new life to take root in me and I'm looking forward to that as well. Is there something you're ready to let go of so you can make room for new growth in you? 

As I'm writing this I'm staring at a picture of Mary above my desk. She has a look of quiet strength and unwavering trust with a knowing eye that seems to look past the here and now. It's a trusting gaze towards a future that holds new life. Through that knowing eye, I see humility - an understanding that God is in this place right here with me and I'm one small part of a bigger picture. If I can let go and allow things to unfold new life will surely bloom in my daughter and in me. 

God, help me feel your comfort and strength as I place my baby girl into your hands. I know she was always yours but I haven't always acted like it. Now, I'm ready. I can let go because I know you're with me and I know you're with her. I'm ready to witness and experience this new life unfold. Amen. 

Are you dealing with a life transition? Whether it's a divorce, a job change, or the loss of a loved one, getting through change is a process that takes time and effort to move through. It's important to have a safe and nurturing space to reflect. I hope you'll join me for my day retreat and online retreats starting September 30th, Life Transitions: Finding God in the Center of the Unknown. 

Take a Vacation

Take a Vacation

I'm taking a vacation for a whole month. That's right. A whole month to think, feel, dream, imagine, and explore. It's going to be a great adventure. And you're invited. Want to come? 

Okay, so I'm not really leaving for a whole month. Yes, I'm excited to say I'm taking a vacation for a little bit with my family but that's not what I'm talking about here. I'm taking a vacation from working on anything for the Retreat, Reflect, Renew ministry for the month of June. (I'm writing this in May!) A month off to clear my head, let my brain relax, free my thoughts and give them some time and space to go wherever they want want to go in the hopes I can renew my spirit and better hear were the Holy Spirit is leading me and the ministry for the next retreat season. 

Doesn't that sound good to you? Is there something you'd like to take a break from thinking about for a month?

I'm listening God.

I'm listening God.

Sometimes I wonder if God called me to be a retreat facilitator because I have so much to learn and God knew that was the only way to make me stop and listen. We just had a beautiful day retreat on courage last Saturday and we're well into the online retreat and I'm feeling so incredibly humbled. Okay, God, I'm listening! What did I learn from my courage journey?

 

The Courage to Speak Out

The Courage to Speak Out

I'm sitting here fully aware of the irony. I'm about to start writing all that I'm excited to share on my day and online retreats on courage and yet there's a tiny voice in me I haven't had the courage to let out. I've loved working on these courage retreats. Working through my fears and insecurities and finding the courage to respond to God's call in my life has been a major theme in my journey and the path towards a fulfilling faith life and so I care deeply about sharing this important subject with you to help you on your journey.

Let's start a trend.

Let's start a trend.

So many people are busy these days. Just ask them.

Ask anyone how they're doing and the response will probably be, "I'm so busy!" It's like a badge of honor. Proof that they're living an important life. 

Okay... I admit I'm guilty of this as well but I want to stop this habit and start a new trend this year. Will you help me? 

Let's make it cool to not be busy.