Single Life as Vocation

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When people think of vocations, they usually think of the priesthood, religious life or marriage.  Consecrated lay people may also come to mind.  The stumbling block for most people is single life without the vows. While all these others are thought to somehow be forever vocations, single life is seen as temporary.   I have been someone who has been happy as a single person most of my life.  Yes, marriage has been a viable option.  True, the religious life has been considered.   Some days, have been lonely, just as with the other vocations.  I have had my moments of heartbreak with men but I have moved forward, keeping my eyes on Jesus.  I have mostly just lived happily without fixating on my status.

Three times this week, this topic has crossed my path.  I have read two articles and had a conversation with a deacon who wanted to understand what my single vocation has meant to me because he thinks that I live it well.  Somehow, I think I am being asked to consider how I got to this particular space.  Where did it all begin?  I grew up in a strict home where dating was not allowed until after high school.  I abided by that rule, despite having the odd crush on some of the boys I went to school with or knew from elsewhere.  That said, early in life I always had other interests and a deep faith. I fell in love with Jesus when I was five years old when I first heard the Scripture stories read in English in school (I had been going to a French parish).  The tales fascinated me and my heart expanded at the thought of a Creator who made all things good, including me. Life takes odd turns and as followers of the blog know, growing into this knowledge that I was created beautiful took some time to bind the wounds that childhood inflicted.

Fast forward to a young bachelorette living on my own, working in a fabulous career, in a relationship which everyone thought was going to end in marriage, and suddenly life took another turn.  I was actively growing in my faith and falling more deeply in love with the Trinity.  The travel bug bit me with fangs and would not let go.  A whole world was out there to explore and in it was the sacred task of witnessing about and serving a mighty God.  The first time I went to Africa, I knew I would never be the same.  I then quit my job and moved to do a year of inner-city ministry in the USA.  My world would take yet another spin into a different direction.  Social justice became a strong passion in my life. My heart was breaking open to serve my Beloved in ways I did not think possible–among the least of these.  Yes, there were men on my radar at these times and my heart remained open to them but somehow what I was doing with my life as a single person seemed sacred enough to make me content.

My focus was always on the service of Christ and not on the falling in love part.  For me, I wanted a partner with whom I could serve God and help create the Kingdom here on earth.  That never happened and I was not distracted from the service piece as the relationships grew.  The question always became, can he join me on this journey? If the answer was no, I was not interested.  I have dated amazing men, both Christian and not. The ones whose hearts also loved God always stood a better chance.  I always dreamed of returning to Africa after retirement and settling there.  Prior to my illness, my eyes stayed fixed on that goal and desire.

My single vocation might have changed at some point I suppose but I have loved the life I have chosen. Yes, chosen.  I have had marriage proposals.  I have been in love.  If I were not dying I might have been ministering in the continent that stole my heart but that is not going to happen. The utmost question still on my mind these days is how can I serve you still, Beloved?  This is what has brought me the most joy in life.  I am not desperately seeking a man to care for me in these final days.  I know that I am deeply loved.  I have worked hard to create a community around me as a single person to deal with the many hurdles I have faced including loneliness, doubt, and sadness. What priest, nun, or married person has not felt these emotions? Few of these other vocations can avoid fleeting moments of discontentment either.  The grass sometimes does look greener and more inviting on the other side — from either perspective.

I have had so many amazing opportunities as a single person.  I have learned to shrug off the question of how come a beautiful woman like you is not married?  I know that they not only mean my physical looks but also the joy that spills over into the world from the love of my vocation.  I have been able to lead programs on a volunteer basis, do spiritual direction, minister to offenders, comfort the grieving, and pray with people for healing because I have been single.  I have helped build homes in developing countries.  During my world travels, I have had holy conversations with all kinds of folks who have made me draw nearer to God by their lives; sometimes it has been reciprocal. Blessing upon blessing has been heaped on me because I have been able to see God in all things and respond where needed.  This has been a life so fulfilling that I cannot honestly imagine another one.  I have not spent time waiting for my prince to come. I have lived every day the moment that was put in front of me.

I have developed excellent friendships with men who keep me grounded and set the bar high.  Desperation has not entered into my decisions about relationships.  This is true because I have a life I love outside of a romantic interest.  Many men have found this desirable.  Some have never figured out how to plug into it. These friendships have been foundational in my relationships.  My male friends have shown great respect for who I am and it has freed me to not depend on one man to be a source of affirmation.  Sometimes, women can be too needy or unable to relate to men as friends.  I have probably suffered from the other end of the continuum – too independent and too many men who I value as friends. Regardless, I have been happy and blessed by the men in my life who  are loyal, affirming, and supportive in all kinds of ways.  I have not needed to seek out romantic partners  to have this in my life.  Several of these men since they have heard the news of my illness have told me how much they care for me.  This is enough for me on so many levels.

Looking back over my life, I can truly say that I do not regret the choices that I have made. A part of me thinks I would have made a wonderful mother. I have three wonderful goddaughters to celebrate in my life who I know cares for me deeply.  I have also had many children on my caseload at work who I was like a mother bear towards, ensuring that they got the best service they could.   My friends have happily shared their children and their dogs with me. Again, I feel content with the relationships that I have created.  I think being single has allowed me to be a role model for the young people in my life, even if I did not give birth to them myself.

Have I felt as if my life has not borne fruit or made a difference because I never made the decision to get married?  No, I do not. My singleness has not always been easy but in general, I would not trade all that I have been able  to do for the sake of the Kingdom for a husband. Have I felt less than as a single person?  People have  tried to make me feel as if I had done something wrong, was too fussy, or did not know what I was really missing.  Others have not meant to be hurtful or judgmental with their comments, but the barbs have left some scars.  I have come to understand that my life has been a bit of an enigma to some people. Some days, it has been for me, too.  I am not sure whether I have explained it well or not, this mysterious vocation of being single. I know Who has always had my heart. My single life has been a treasure from God in the same way as the other vocations have been for others. Our calls are all different. May you be at peace with yours.

Reflection Questions

What vocation has God called you to?

Have you been joyful in living out this calling?

Prayer

Beloved, you have had my heart seemingly forever and I am filled with joy to serve you however I can. May my vocation as a single person bring you glory. Amen.

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Safe in God’s Arms

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My morning dance routine has been lost, like so many other rituals these past months.  When it does spontaneously return, my heart is joy-filled and a smile breaks out on my face as I find my body moving to the music without awareness.  The song has called forth my spirit and my mind registers that I am free from whatever has bound me. I am free to dance.

I never know what song will do it.  This morning it was Safe in My Father’s Arms by Sanctus Real.  Tonight I went into my kitchen and turned on the radio for a few moments while I made myself a cup of tea.  My hips started to swing, my shoulders swayed, my eyes closed, and my feet twirled.  A smile burst forth.  The song was on again. My spirit responded. I was transported.  Hallelujah! As it came to an end, I wondered what I needed to hear from the message within this song.

Perhaps the obvious message is that I am safe in my Beloved’s arms.  I do find a dwelling place there that compares to none.  As St. Catherine of Labouré says: The protection of God is always there.  Those loving arms hold me tightly.  I am a child of the King and the hallelujahs spill from me when I feel those precious arms uplifting me.  The Creator’s open arms await me when I need to run to the embrace that knows my needs before I even arrive.

I have been shuffling through stuff that can weigh me down–more letting go, feeling emotionally overwhelmed, acknowledging more readily that my time may be running out more quickly than I want it to, and so much more.   I am struggling with BIG questions about who I am, how I want to live out my final days, what my boundaries are, and have I done what I was created for.  All my life, I have been a feeler and yet I tend to analyze everything.  Some would say I over-analyze some things. I won’t argue with that statement.

I have also been reading a book this summer that was a gift by one of the members of the Ignatian Lay Volunteer group I belong to called Resisting Happiness by Matthew Kelly.  The read has been a bit of a slog for me.  More recently some of the chapters have caught my attention.  Today’s chapter talked about murdering the truth.  I recently had a conversation with someone at our church picnic that was about how people who want to be politically correct sometimes prefer not to stand up for the Truth any more.  That was basically what the chapter was saying in a different way–but it asked some pointed questions, one of which caught me:  where are you allowing lies to take root in your heart?  I sat there for a moment and several examples came to mind with the author’s challenge of giving Truth a place of honour in our lives, relentlessly poking me.

When we do not give Truth the place of honour in our lives, we are running from the Divine arms that long to hold us.  When we cannot acknowledge that we are being sinful, the lies win.  They hold us back from being safe in God’s great arms.  I keep telling myself that I must remain open to God’s plan for me and yet I some days do not listen.  After my kitchen dance, I sat down and made a to-do list.  One of the items on it was that I would finally set up a prayer space in my bedroom.  After almost 11 months of living here, I had not created one.  I wanted it elsewhere but today I was determined to not go another day without my sacred space.  I have mostly used my balcony as that place but as the weather changes, I knew I must get serious about doing this small act of obedience.  In order to know the Truth, you must spend time in the arms of the One who is the Way.

We lie to ourselves and others in so many ways–about our unworthiness, our well-kept secrets, our infidelities, our dark sides.  We do not even know what our own truth is anymore.  We do not recognize the Truth either. We stop singing Hallelujahs.  We no longer know how to be vulnerable or safe.  We forget Whose child we are.  The lies get into our heads and destroy pieces of us, bit by bit, slowly and surely.  We do not want to be held accountable until something shifts, as if by a miracle. Hope calls us back because we are Loved.  We were always made to be children of the Light.  Speak your truth.  Stand in the Truth.  Even if you cannot always stay rooted there, believe that you are safe when you choose to stand under the standard of the King.  The Truth will prevail and lies will be exposed so it is best to remain whenever possible in the Light.

At my birthday party last year, a Jesuit friend gave a talk that began with the question have you ever noticed how long Suzanne’s arms are?  He then went on to explain why that was, how I had opened my heart and arms to those around me until they were much longer than they had been.  This beautiful image has stayed with me, because I know that God’s arms are even longer and more accepting than mine.  I can only open mine because the Holy One has shown me how. One Truth I do know is Whose I am–a child of my Beloved who waits for me with open arms.  May I always choose to run back to that safety when I stray.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

How do you feel in the arms of God?

What lies are making your life unruly right now?

Prayer

Safe-Space, thank you for embracing us when we need to know Whose we are.  You are ever-faithful even when we cannot tell you the truth of our lives.  You know the fears, anger, lies, and infidelities within our hearts before we even offer them to you.  May we run into those wide arms and find hope and strength to stand in the Light of your Truth.  Hallelujah, we are safe in your arms.  We are children of the King.  Hallelujah! Amen.

 

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Dueling Dementors

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My love of the Harry Potter series surprises people at times.  The books became darker as they went on, but still gave much food for thought. The Dementor creatures frightened me a bit.  Below, for those unfamiliar with these beasts, is a description.  I listened to one of the inmates yesterday share his personal trauma story with me and today I have been thinking about Dementors.

Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can’t see them. Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself — soul-less and evil. You’ll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life. ~ J.K Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

After chapel, one of the guys raised his eyebrows and cocked his head at me. He was sitting all alone, with no other chair nearby. I pulled out one of the chairs from the pack, looked at him and raised my eyebrows back at him. He nodded once ever so slowly.  I settled down beside him and he began to talk about the demons haunting him.  I simply listened, asking a question or two from time to time.  I knew that he had been using on the inside, probably to self-medicate whatever controlled him.  Tonight though he was clean and being brutally honest.  I am not sure why he chose to share his sacred story with me but I immediately slipped on my very best spiritual direction hat to pay attention to what he was saying.  There would be none of the joking around that was often present at other times.

At some point he confessed that the chapel was a place that he felt peace in for a brief time and that he enjoyed coming.  The guards had not announced chapel that evening on his range, he said.  He waited as another activity was called and after a few minutes he asked about chapel.  He was told he had missed it and could not go.  He knew this was a lie.  He had listened for it.  He took his bible in hand and announced he was going and that he would be let in on the other end. The guard did not challenge him too much, but enough to unsettle him.  I inquired if these were part of the demons. He nodded and I could see his face turn to steel.  He had already told me his crime–and I knew that he was capable of hurting people.  He looked straight ahead. I quietly said that I was sorry that had happened.  I saw his jawline relax a bit.

We talked some more.  I have heard the horrific stories of several lifers over the many years of ministry there.  This one seemed extra sad to me and as he kept talking, he looked me right in the eye.  I could feel the tears welling up.  I was trying hard not to cry. This man had asked permission to give me a hug when my father died a week before the June visit. The request caught me off guard as there is a no touching unspoken rule but I trusted it was not a game and received his kindness.  I am not sure if that was why he was being so vulnerable now. Regardless, his story both saddened and frustrated me.  I have heard these stories about the guards.  I do not always believe them and I know that good people work there too.  The relationships between the guards and inmates are complicated for good reason.

I could feel his struggle for hope and peace. His anger burned when the guard challenged his right to go to chapel.  Clearly though this man needed to be in a holy, peaceful place.  The Dementors live in the darkest, foulest places of our beings, trying to crowd out any light that exists.  They long to snuff out peace, hope, love, and joy. They stir up those sadistic tapes that we are not worthy, nor do we have anything good to offer. They suck joyful memories and force a downward spiral of our thoughts.  The Truth that we need to cling to is that we are worth more than our worst mistake.  Even here, God can redeem us.

The conversations that I have valued the most over my fifteen plus years in this prison ministry are the one-on-ones with the lifers who have done unspeakable acts of violence.  They are the ones who take on the Dementors. They have my admiration.  Their stories need to be told and heard lovingly.  I have heard about the sexual abuse they have experienced, occasionally by the hands of a priest. I have listened to them admit they are powerless against their addictions.  I know that deep down they have great remorse about their crime. Forgiving themselves for what they have done is not easy. The demons keep hissing away, returning to their sin, and clawing at their souls.  Oftentimes, I find myself in awe that they have not let the Dementors eat them alive and be done with their suffering. These men are resilient.  They remain to tell their ordeals to those who dare to listen.  Our hearts are changed because of it. Many of these men remain on my heart, years later.  Their honest analysis of their lives teaches me to be vulnerable and truthful about my own demons.  They bring me hope that I can withstand the dogged sneers of the Dementors myself.

I pray for all people who are run ragged by Dementors, myself included.  I have learned to embrace my Graced History and beautiful memories.  Holding on to the painful, worst experiences of life is not what I ever want to choose.  I return time and again to what St. Ignatius teaches–that we live for the greater glory of God and that we must strive to be people for others.  At this moment, I am giving thanks for a man who made himself vulnerable in talking about his demons and reminding me that we all can choose the way of freedom, even behind prison walls.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

What demons are relentless in your life?

What triggers the Dementors to come out and torment you?

Prayer

Soul-Supporter, protect us from the Dementors who want to claw our souls from us, sucking out all the goodness you have placed there.  May we hear your small, still voice in our moments of despair and know that we are better than our worse mistakes.  Amen.

 

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Recognizing the Divine

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We are truly blessed in life if we find a someone who loves us despite our flaws.  Today is the anniversary of the death of my friend Ginny.  She was a complex woman.  I think we were similar in that way.  She was a woman of faith and of fury.  She was generous, creative, loving, and wise.  She was in many ways larger than life.  Twenty-four years later, I still miss her quick smile and that flash of anger in her eyes, both of which spoke of the passion that dwelt within her.  The lessons I learned from her remain precious.

Ginny was easy to love and the two of us could talk about almost any topic or nothing at all and that would be fine.  One morning on a retreat, lazily sitting on the couch by the window, I suggested I should use my time properly and get to the questions I was supposed to reflect on.  She responded that she was just going to sit there and watch my wet, curly hair dry in the sunlight.  She was an artist at her core, often seeing what most of us missed.

Ginny said many valuable words to me over our intense year together but the ones that have stayed with me are ones she wrote as I prepared to return to my country after my year of service with a social justice organization.  She told me that I had an innate ability to see the good in people, even when seeing the opposite would be easier.  She was really the first person to point out this character trait of mine.  That year had had its struggles for both of us, but she was telling me in some ways that not only had I survived, I had let the others thrive because I did not give up on them.  I sought out the Divine good in people.  I, for my part, had never noticed this beautiful gift that had been given to me.

Another friend used very similar words recently after the sudden death of her husband.  Randy and I on the surface seemed to be anything but two peas in a pod, but gosh, that man could make me laugh.  His wife, my colleague who became a dear friend, and I spoke a few days after his passing.  She mentioned that day that she did not understand why I even liked him, but she too knew that I saw the good in people–and Randy had a lot of good in him.  This complex nature of mine enjoyed the Newfoundlander and his quirks immensely.  I loved arguing with him, teasing him, being teased by him, being put in my place, and talking in code with he-who-would-not-be-photographed.  We were both wildly intense and I appreciated his no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is way of carrying on a conversation.  Some days I could hardly get a word in edgewise with that introvert who loved to talk when he found the right ear to speak into.  I am sure if people saw us they would wonder why the church lady was hanging out with the headbanger, but looks are so deceiving.  One night at a retirement party,  he had me laughing so much that my jaw hurt the next day.  I used to make Ginny laugh like that and she would get so fake angry with me because there is such a freedom or lack of control that goes along with that intensity.

To recognize the Divine in someone is a gift.  Ginny and Randy both saw me for who I was and I them.  From the outside looking in, my friendship with Ginny would have made sense to people, while those who judge with narrowness would have been puzzled a bit by Randy.  The truth is Randy was a rare gem, someone who lived fully and did not hold back much about anything.  Anyone who really knew him would attest to this. So much goodness abided in him. Searching for the Divine in the other solidifies relationships in fascinating ways.  We are never the same when we catch that glimpse of God in human form that lives within each one of us.

If we stopped for a moment and marveled at God-in-Front-of-Us, our relationships would be different.  Gruff exteriors, quietness, loudness, attractiveness, and the such are just distractions from discovering what people are like deep down. To be able to find someone’s innate goodness, we have to sweep aside the external noise.  We all are guilty of overlooking the people who most need to know that they are lovable. God sees the heart; so must we.  Do not get caught up in the negative parts of a person; none of us can throw stones. Instead focus your energies on seeing the good.  That treasure may need to be polished before it can shine brightly but I think that is our calling.  We all have had enough mean-spirited messages about who we are brought to our attention throughout our lives.  Let us instead nourish the goodness that each of us has within us. I am ever grateful to Ginny for drawing out this gift of mine and to Randy for letting me in to his world.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

What do you seek first when you meet a person–a negative or positive quality?

What person in your life is a polar opposite from you that you still love to be with?

Prayer

Maker of All Things Good, help us to seek the Divine and recognize it in those around us. May our eyes be open to the good in each one we meet.  May we know our own goodness.  May we call forth the good in ourselves and those around us daily.  Amen.

 

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Imagining the Impossible

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I was walking in the woods with dozens of eagles soaring and swooping around me when I noticed this little squirrel.  I am sure he was terrified. Above him in the tree were four eagles.  He had scampered half way down the trunk and then stopped.  I could almost hear his petrified heart pounding.  Poor thing!  He knew without a doubt that his days were numbered. Few of us have that sense.  We live as if we are immortal and cannot imagine that we might not live to a ripe old age.

I read a conversation between a priest and a Catholic recently about what the Catholic man might do if he learned that he only had three months left to live.  It reminded me of that party game question that I had encountered a number of times: If you had a year left to live, what would you do? People often say they would quit their job and travel the world and/or spend time with the people they love.  My answer before I was living that reality was that I would not change much of anything–I would keep doing whatever I had been doing as I loved my life.  Reflecting back, I think the squirrel has it right.  The question should stop us in our tracks, horrified that we would actually be given such ghastly knowledge.

As someone who is now seven months past her estimated life expectancy, I am not sure that knowing really was helpful.  The information created a time frame and a certain amount of stress that went with it.  At some point, I simply decided that God alone knew my future and I would just carry on.  Life became much more manageable after that.  Each calendar month I flip over old school is done with gratitude.  The physical taking hold of the page, while acknowledging that though the birds of prey circle overhead, I am going to make a run for it and play in the field for a bit longer is a moment for a grateful pause.

If I were to give advice on how I have answered that fateful question with my own life, these are some of the things I might say:

Hold lightly to time frames.  Instead be grateful for each day.

Make memories with loved ones.  Bucket lists as they are called do not have to be extravagant.  Spend your time well.  Laugh and love well.  Take photos.  Say what needs to be said. Listen to what must be told.

Let people be kind to you.  People want to help.  As a giver, receiving is hard, especially when the gifts are lavish.  This far into receiving I have mostly let delight be my primary emotion.  That has been a major shift for me.

Do not be afraid to love. This one has paralyzed me at times.  I know that dying will shatter hearts and that hurts me.  I feel so helpless and responsible since I have long been a caretaker. I have formed new and rekindled former relationships with joy.  At times, I am overcome by great grief at what is to come for these beloved people in my life.  Perhaps it is the first or second fear on my list of dying.  Suffering by others may actually top my own suffering.

Do not be afraid to be loved.  This may fall into the letting people be kind to you but letting yourself be loved is a notch up the emotional scale.  A friend came over just to spend time with me and the hours flew by. She went home and spend the rest of the evening crying. I know how much she loves me. In fact, I know how many people love me and the cost of that love. I have been on the other side of letting go often in life.  I try not to push away those who are in my inner circles while trying to balance my time and energy.  Dying well perhaps means loving well right to the end, of allowing people to help with the cross and watching them stand at the foot of it, knowing they have chosen to be there.

Do not stop living before you are dead. One of the comments I hear often is that I just keep smiling through it all. I have loved my life and though the disease steals my exuberance some days, I will not let cancer have the last word. Breathe beauty. Behold wonder. Seek goodness. Sow kindness.  Let Love say the final blessing on my life.  I do not know what my final days will look like but I do know that right now is all I have and I am going to keep embracing the joy of now. Living is not just about joy though and so I welcome all the passions of a fully engaged life.

Take risks. Life is scary and yet glorious.  Do not squander any of it.  You do not want to look back on your deathbed and regret not having lived more intently.  Sometimes, throw off the comfortable creature of habit ways and don a shiny, sparkly robe that attracts your eye.  Do not let fear stop you from being your best you. Do not procrastinate for whatever reason because you may not get another chance.  Believe that all things are possible with God.

Make amends wherever possible; let go of the rest.  Try to ask forgiveness where you can and forgive those you are able to. This requires an honesty, a vulnerability and a courage that sometimes is inconceivable.  In the end, forgive yourself for what you were unable to do with the gift of your life.  This might be the hardest of the three.

Serve others as long as you can.  I am truly Ignatian in this desire. My life is not, and never has been, mine.  It belongs to God and I hope to serve my Creator until my breath is no more.  How that looks may change but rest assured, I long to do this

Offer it all up.  I want all to be for the glory of God, which includes my life, my dying  and death.  Whatever comes, I want people to say she loved God with all her mind, all her heart and all her spirit.  I want to keep being the hands, feet, and face of God and point people to the Glorious One.

Let your life, however long you have, be a blessing.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

What might you add to this list?

Would you scurry into the field or stay immobilized on the tree?

Prayer

Giver of Days, I humbly ask that you bless my life and let it be a true testimony to you in this world, working through a servant who desires to give all the glory to you. You alone know the number of hairs on my head and the length of my days.  I entrust all of it to you, desiring only what you wish for me.  Amen.

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Revisioning Our Stories

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For most of my growing up years I thought I was an ugly duckling.  I hated my curly hair which stylists seemed confused by, my mom dressed me funny, and I, quite honestly, preferred my brother’s hand me downs because they hid my skinny torso nicely.  I always felt awkward and was excruciatingly shy.  Other girls at school seemed pretty to me and to the boys too who showed a complete disinterest in me.  I had male friends as the school years went by but still I watched the other girls put on makeup and bat their lashes just so until the boys swarmed around them like bees on a flower on a hot summer day.  I was not allowed makeup which I did not really like anyway.  The tomboy in me would rather be climbing a tree or riding my bike than putting on a dress and acting all girly. That eventually changed too.  I have learned how to flutter my lashes, flash my smile, hold my own conversationally, slip into a little black dress with heels, and even flirt on occasion. The ugly duckling finally transformed into a swan.

At the same time, I never felt really smart at school.  I had been placed in the dumb class when I entered school due to a speech impediment.  That label got stuck in my psyche for 45 years. When I finally mustered up the courage to return to university at age 40, I loved academics and graduated at the top of my class.  I was stunned at the outcome and could hardly believe it.  I was sure that the university had made a mistake despite my 4.0+ GPA.  How could I be a smarty pants? Doubting voices were relentless.

These are two examples of how the stories we tell ourselves shape us–sometimes incorrectly.  We get stuck in a place that is not Truth.  We have a choice to make–cling to the lie or create a new, more accurate story. By mid-junior high school being pretty, smart, or athletic did not matter as much to me. I had found books and writing.  These saved me as I delved into a world of imagination, intrigue and beauty. I could read for hours on a Sunday afternoon, literally devouring books from the library.  I could not get enough of the literary world.  I was writing poetry and short stories releasing my angst through strong female protagonists.  This is not to say that my feelings of self-worth were high, but perhaps I balanced them better with other interests.

When my friends started dating, something this good Catholic girl was not allowed to do until after graduation, I became skilled at making boys good friends.  Several were walking me home from school, despite dating my girlfriends, and may have even had crushes on me but my head was not in that space.  I remember once the principal’s nephew and I were standing at my back fence when I realized suddenly that he liked me as more than a friend.  In an awkward moment, I knew that I liked him too but neither one of us quite knew what to do about it.  We just stayed friends which turned out to be wonderful since there was no way my parents would have let me date him, especially since he was a year older than I was.

I am unsure of when I finally figured out that I had indeed become a swan.  The story in my head about the ugly duckling was deeply embedded.  I know that tale is not completely gone but I have been adored by some very good men in my life which has helped to see the lie and move towards the truth. The childhood scripts of not being enough in various ways still try to arm wrestle their way into the adventure I am living but they almost always lose.  I have worked hard on transforming into Swan Suzanne on every level.  Being stuck is not a choice for me.  I want to live the best life ever.  As the Principle and Foundation of St. Ignatius states we are born to love, serve and praise God.  I cannot do that if I stay stuck.  My love is insincere; I will not move beyond myself and towards others; my praise will crumble and leave an awful taste in my mouth.

Oftentimes people blame events and other people on their horrible state in life.  I look at my life which has had some pretty significant trauma in it and have decided time and again that it will not shape me.  This illness, this death, this oppression, this sexual harassment incident, this witnessing of violence–whatever it has been–will not have the last word.  I have poured positivity and beauty into the cracks in the foundation. I have shone light into the darkness to clear out those creepy spiders that spin their webs.  I have accepted that children undergo experiences that will make or break them–mine were not going to totally crush me. I have revisioned my story of drama and trauma into something beautiful for God and for the greater good of others.

Even now, facing death, I have a choice.  I could crawl under my covers and never come out. I could lay there counting the days left and speed up the dying process.  I could become bitter.  I could banish people from my sight.  On the other hand, I could be grateful for each day I get. I could welcome people to join me in this crazy adventure and celebrate together for as long as we can. I could decide to step out of my own misery and serve those who need me.  I could sing praises to my Creator for all the beauty and joy I still soak up.  I could choose to live until I die which is what I have done.

Is it unfair that I am dying? Absolutely by first world standards! Not so in so many other parts of the world that have my heart. I have had a good life despite all the early messages of feeling unworthy, ugly, dumb, uncoordinated, and whatever else could have held me in the quicksand.  Instead I have taken each lesson–some heartbreaking, a couple gross, many joyous, and lots spectacular–and moved forward. I have never wanted to be stuck for too long.

We can even hold on to good experiences which hold us back from future blessings.  Decades ago, I let go of a man that I loved because he was stuck–and feeling trapped in our relationship.  Bravely, I suggested that he needed to go and date lots of women.  I secretly hoped that he would come back to me but that did not happen in the form of marriage.  He is still a dear friend.  One morning several weeks after our breakup, driving west on the highway, I could see a stunning sunrise in my rear view mirror.  My eyes became fixated upon it.  Suddenly, a heavy downpour occurred just on my car.  The sunrise was still visible and breathtaking.  I had to peel my eyes away though and look forward.  Just as I did that, a gorgeous rainbow appeared ahead of me in a blue sky.   I am a visual person.  I began to cry, realizing the message I was receiving.  It has remained with me for three decades.  I remember it when I am going through transitions in my story.  God had painted a magnificent scene for me in images rather than words:  Yes, the past was beautiful.  Yes, the present is dark and painful. If you trust me, look ahead. Joy awaits you.

God desires freedom for us. If we trust the Divine Goodness, we can move forward in using the lessons learned to create a story that is a blessing instead of a curse.  Do not stay stuck.  Believe that you are a swan in every essence of the word.  Use your life as a model of resilience and joy.  Let Love win.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

What do you need to get unstuck?

Can you trust that joy awaits you?

Prayer

Swan-Maker, you call us forward out of the darkness and mire to joy and life.  Break the bonds that sometimes weigh me down and let me dance unencumbered by the doubting voices who want our precious stories not to have happy endings.  You lead us to fullness and beauty.  May I be ever grateful for your love and mercy.  Amen.

 

 

 

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The Power of Touch

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Since early summer, I have had a lot of challenging news to process.  Yesterday, I was at yet another funeral though I must confess due to a scheduling conflict that I slipped in only at the end. I wanted to at the very least spend some time with the sons of the deceased and my friends who would gather in support of them.  The layers of memories that occur always fascinate me and lately, I find myself even more open to being present in situations like this.  Sometimes the emotions can be raw.

Because I had scooted in with only 10 or so minutes left to go, I was one of the first people to enter the foyer and I found myself almost face-to-face with the older son.  As I approached him, offering my sympathies, I was uncertain that he would remember me as two decades had passed but I saw the light come on through his eyes and a huge smile before we embraced.  My hands took his and we stood, speaking like that, for a few moments before he led me into the reception hall, still catching up and holding hands.  The younger son, a dear friend, was standing beside a long time buddy of his, and again after a hug, my hand clasped his before I turned to greet our friend.  What is about the power of touch that heals and connects people?

Several times throughout that afternoon my hand sought out someone else’s to hold. Many of us in this circle are going through our own private battles and then there is the fact that I too will be leaving them.  Perhaps it was my way of saying that I do not want to let go of them or that I am with them.  I am not sure exactly why touch seemed so important that day except that the younger son had taught me a valuable lesson about touch many moons ago.  Often at parties, we would start teasing one another about something and one time he asked why I did something.  I asked what it was I did.  He told me that I would say something in a teasing fashion and then I would touch him, usually on the arm.  He was very observant because I was unaware of that on some level but I knew intuitively why I did it.  Though we were joking, I knew that if any of the barbs that might have been internalized through our playful conversation that the touch would neutralize them.

Touch has the power to heal and to comfort. I find several friends have been giving me long embraces and until recently I was the one breaking away.  I am learning to relax into them.  These are not people I see regularly so when I am in their presence I am able to make myself vulnerable.  Earlier this evening I admitted to another friend that I must let people be kind to me, and this includes the element of physical touch that I have long known is restorative.  Last night I was out at a celebration and I found myself doing what I often do with the two children of the family — touching them.  I gave them both big hugs upon arrival, my hand wanders to rub their backs when it is appropriate, I laid my head on the shoulder of the son for a moment, and I ran my fingers through the daughter’s hair commenting on her new cut. Affection is important. Some days I think platonic, loving touch is one of the most important gifts we can share with one another.  In this world where violence is rampant, I think celebrating an innocent but loving touch is a blessing.  I am going to pay more attention to this in the days and weeks ahead.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

How and when do you touch people?

Have you ever been healed by someone’s platonic touch?

Prayer

Gentle One, I seek your wisdom again.  May I know how to touch in healing ways and allow myself to receive the soft, sacred stroke of another. Help me to learn how to use touch to break down barriers and instill self-worth.  Amen.

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