Entitlement & Ego

IMG_7159In my morning devotional  this past week, Sarah Young in her book, Jesus Always, stated that thankfulness is the best antidote to a sense of entitlement–the poisonous attitude that ‘the world owes me.’  I have spent time this week thinking about this concept and realize that I have felt entitled about many things in my life, but spent some time looking specifically at my health.  My question has never been why me but as I dig deeper I do wonder why during my life I have had such health challenges.

The Principle and Foundation (P & F) helps people detach from those things to which we believe we are entitled to such as a long life instead of short, health instead of sickness, and honour rather than dishonour.  The Examen helps us review our day with gratitude and realize that we are not owed anything.  We are given a bounty of gifts and blessings each day if we have but eyes to see and ears to hear.

Throughout my life I have had several mysterious diseases that have not been easily resolved.  Doctors have struggled to find a source, a diagnosis, treatment, and a cure.  I could be bitter about this but I have chosen not to be.  I have moved through each of them, beginning at age 20, when I was not sure if an innovative surgery would allow me to walk again.  I learned early in life that not everything was fair and I had to be open to whatever would befall me.  The Spiritual Exercises showed me how to do this with more grace and gratitude.

We are not entitled to much of anything in this life, not even happiness.  We are proud people, expecting so much.  We ask for long life, good health, and honour instead of being grateful for what we have.  There are days on this adventure when I have forgotten to be thankful.  Those days I feel overwhelmed until I do the Examen to remind myself of the many blessings that I have. I cannot speak for you, but I know those moments when that poisonous attitude silently slinks into me, I need to turn to gratitude to extract my ego and sense of entitlement from the process.  I am alive today because I live in the First World and have access to some of the best medical care in the world.  Most people in the South would not still be alive in my situation.  They would have died three years ago.  Sometimes, even when we do not comprehend everything, all we can do is stand in humility with open hands before our Maker and stay thank you for it all.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

What sense of entitlement do you have?

What do you need to give thanks for?

Prayer

Maker-of-Me, you know every hair on my head, every thought buzzing through my brain,  each desire I have, and each fear I cling to.  You desire more for me than I can ask or imagine.  You ask me to come before you with a heart full of trust, open hands, and no attachments. I place my ego and sense of entitlement at the foot of your cross.  Fill me with gratitude instead.  Amen.

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What Gets You Out of Bed?

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A visiting Jesuit preached on love this weekend.  He used one of my favourite Ignatian pieces of prose. Pedro Arrupe, sj is credited with writing Fall in Love:

Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

What and who you are in love with affects everything in you life.  When you think about being in love, how often do you think of the person who has captured your heart? How much time in the day does your mind wander to that person, especially in the early romantic days of adventure?  Do joy and anticipation make you leap out of bed in the morning? Now consider God the centre of  your affection.  How does this play out?

For me, God is my waking thought and often my last lucid reflection prior to drifting off to sleep.  I am madly and deeply in love with Creation, often giving thanks to the Creator for the many gifts I have received during the day: a friend’s encouragement, an unexpected flash of purple, or a glimpse of beauty that stops me in my tracks.  Much amazes me with great joy and gratitude…still.

I must admit that I rarely jump out of bed these days, as I struggle with some health issues regarding the cancer, but I still look forward to many parts of the day, offering my works, prayers, joys and sufferings humbly to God. That remains unchanged.  So much of what I read these days is faith-related because it sustains me on the journey.  The people who accompany me the closest are mostly, though not exclusively, people of a variety of faiths or spiritualities.  I look for God everywhere and find the Holy disguised in ways I would not have thought.

The other day I was telling one of my favourite seniors at church about how crappy I felt, a drastic change from my usual upbeat self.  We laughed, me saying that I hoped I had a  better attitude tomorrow.  He took my hand and kissed it, his sparkling eyes saying it all.  God was there in that moment.  Today a friend from Germany sent an affirming email which ended with this reminder:  I am very certain that the medications and their side effects will not be stronger than your spirit and your faith. I have read those words a dozen times today, heartened by her love and knowledge of me.  I breathe them in, letting them penetrate me. I know I am trying to believe them, but trust that my friend already knows that this statement is a fact.  One of the readers of my blog who I have never met reached out to me with her beautiful story and once again has left me marveling at how God works in our lives, bringing people in and out of our world before we even know that we needed such a person in it.  Last week I was feeling exhausted and could not pull my act together so drove to mass instead of walked.  I parked my car, went to mass, facilitated a meeting of spiritual directors for the 19th Annotation, prayed in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and finally wandered back to my car….which would not start.  A 45-minute wait for a boost did not rectify the situation; a tow truck was called.  I headed back to the church to warm up and to ask about a garage nearby.  People, as always, were accommodating. God keeps showing up and I may not notice right away but I do eventually.  God is in all things. God’s signature is Love.

I cannot encourage you enough to fall in love with God and to stay in love.  During trials it can be hard to recognize the reason you get out of bed, what breaks your heart and what brings gratitude.  Stay in love anyway.  God is there, right beside you, in odd and glorious ways.  This I do know as Truth.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Why do you choose to stay in love with God?

Prayer

Beloved, may my waking thoughts and dozing moments be filled with your Holy Love.  May I know each morning why I am here–to praise, honour and serve you.  Help me to stay in love with you until my dying breath and then let me come to you at last with joy and gratitude.  Amen.

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Washed Robes

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The Feast of All Saints Day has me thinking about my favourite saints, ones who have made an impression on me and who have helped me to walk closer with the Trinity.  As I sat before the Blessed Sacrament, I found myself thanking God for these holy ones who in their lifetime were able to reach a peace about following God with all their minds, hearts and souls. Some had mystical experiences; others a deep, abiding friendship with one of the Trinity or with Mary.  Some suffered greatly while others found peace.  Not all started as saints–they were as human as the rest of us and yet somewhere along the line, their hearts and spirits exploded with an all-encompassing love of God.

Praying before the Blessed Sacrament is becoming a routine for me.  I have a meeting in the building where it is exposed so stopping in post-meeting is easy.  I sometimes simply bask in the Son’s Light lately, too tired to ask for much initially.  I start always with one of my favourite name for Jesus–Joy of the Angels.  I let those words settle into my soul and become still.  I usually come with a shopping list of needs and yet I try hard to stay with an equal amount of praise too.  Today was no exception.  My mind wandered to all those people who are mentioned in the First Reading from Revelation 9 today: These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  These holy men and women have put their lives on the line because of their faith.  They are the ones who pray for me constantly and who teach me to be courageous.  I found myself giving thanks to Sts. Ignatius, Peregrine, Padre Pio, Clare, Francis, Catherine of Labouré, Therese, Theresa, Marguerite, Michael, Rafael, Gabriel, and so many more.  Their presence seemed so tangible to me.

Psalm 24 asks today who shall stand in God’s holy place?  The answer is someone who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up their soul to what is false.  This seems like a tall order.  I wonder if I can live up to that.  I take heart knowing that initially not all saints had clean hearts and a pure heart and yet God called them to holiness.  God knew what they were capable of and beckoned them beyond their comfort zones.  They responded and their lives–and ours–were changed.  Such beauty came from that and centuries later those of us who call upon them, still reap benefits.

This photo from Manresa shows St. Ignatius in rapture.  The legend is that he fell as the church bells rang for morning mass and he remained outstretched on the ground for 8 days.  The people wondered if he were dead but a slight pulse was detected.  At the end of the 8 days, it is said that he rose and announced that there was much work to be done.  Off he went.  Something about this story captivates me. Perhaps it is the deep necessity to rest in order to carry out God’s will.  Alternatively, the thought of God stopping me in my tracks to get my attention both scares and affirms me.  I am tired coming off the steroids and feeling a bit sick.  I suspect it is a cold; my energy is waning. I went to bed after getting home later than expected due to car trouble and woke up after 7 pm.  I am hoping that I will be able to sleep tonight, knowing that my saints surround me and bless me.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflections Questions

What saint inspires you?

What life lesson has a saint taught you?

Prayer

Beloved Saints you keep serving even from heaven, helping us to love God more, keeping us safe, and showing us the way.  May we keep our eyes on you, learning what we need to know for our time here before we join you, singing a chorus of hallelujahs.  Amen.

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Jubilant with Joy

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Psalm 68 is beautiful today:  Let God rise up, let the righteous be joyful, let them exult before God, let them be jubilant with joy, God is in a holy habitation, God is our salvation,  and blessed be the Lord who daily bears us up.  So much goodness! We are to exult and be jubilant.  The Creator daily is with us, bearing us up as we need. God is rising up, even before we call out.

The Gospel reading from Luke is a favourite one of mine–I fell in love with it in a book, Women of the Word, by Mary Lou Sleevi who used the image of the bent-over women as a question mark that became an exclamation point after 18 years of infirmity.  How many times when we encounter Jesus do we have a moment of being jubilant with joy, of shrugging off everything that weighs us down and holds us back because we are fearful of what is being asked of us?  This woman at hearing the words of Christ that she was set free, not only believed him but began to praise God while straightening up.  The image of the question mark–doubt, fear, rage, bitterness, anxiety–becoming an exclamation point–joy, freedom, trust, faith, confidence–is a spectacular reminder that we have a choice when we come to Jesus as how to respond.  This woman who suffered for almost two decades did not cling to the question marks of life.  With God, she was already rising to the occasion, jumping up to the task of exclaiming the praises of the Great Physician.  She is a model for us.

We all have choices when we face life with tough questions, whatever they are.  Some of us face life and death issues; others encounter anguish that lasts a lifetime; most have difficult decisions that limit our rejoicing.  This woman must have had great trust and a positive attitude because of her immediate response.  No negativity came from her, though those around her were furious what with occurred, challenging Jesus’ compassion of healing her on the Sabbath.  These people might not have become exclamation points, but remained question marks.  How we respond is sometimes the biggest struggle of all, especially if our safe zone is skepticism and negativity.  The challenge of this Gospel is for the readers to decide if they want to be question marks or exclamation points in life. Which do you choose?

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

What is your go-to stance in life in adversity–a question mark or an exclamation point?

How often do you feel jubilant with joy?

Prayer

Rising One, you bid us to jump up, too, jubilant with joy, to praise God at what will happen.  May we be open to choosing new ways to live our lives.  Amen.

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Not Dying to Die

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The question usually comes with curiosity and quietness.  The inquiry takes various forms.  For those who know my faith, the answer is still not evident which may say more about them than me.  Will I opt to use the new law and die sooner, without suffering?  I have made this decision without proper discernment, I suppose, but the answer is that I am in this for the long haul.  I am unsure why this particular adventure has been gifted me but I do believe that God has already used my illness for good and will continue to do so, even when my health really begins to shift.

I am not dying to die.  In truth, some days I am so stuck in the present moment that I procrastinate doing what needs to be done for the future.  I have chosen to live as fully as I can right here and right now.  I was given a short time frame which I have exceeded by generous measure.  This brings me to a myriad of questions: If I had chosen to die sooner, what glory would I have missed?  What lovely memories with friends would never have been created?  What beautiful conversations might never have been had? How many opportunities to say and hear I love you would have been lost?

I have tried not to let fear rule my heart, mind and spirit since becoming ill.  Most days this works well.  I am very in tune with my body; I always have been.  My faith is strong, and growing stronger as time passes.  My mind can be foggy lately and I miss the clarity that brings marvelous ideas and retains concepts.  I note the changes and move forward. Nothing about what is happening to me makes me want to leave this world yet.  That does not mean I am not ready to go.  Simply put, I have loved this life dearly and yet I known that Heaven is my real Home.  I will stay as long as God desires me to be here and I will surrender gracefully when I am called to go.

I do not understand the thinking of asking another to take my life to end my suffering, especially prior to any horrible suffering.  I do not know how much I will suffer or if I will at all.  I do not wish to bring a burden on anyone who would end my life.  I know that there are physicians who believe they are doing the right and merciful medical intervention by ending a patient’s anguish.  Some families and friends agree with this stance.  I cannot judge these people.  I can assert though that this is not my choice.  My model remains the Suffering Servant who did not shy away from those final moments when He could easily have demanded that cup to be removed and Scripture says He did ask but chose instead to stay the course and do the will of the Creator.

When a dear friend was in his final weeks, some of us stopped by to visit.  He had slept most of the time we were together.  I turned before I stepped out the door into the night for one last look.  Our eyes locked, a smile spread across his face, and a slow wave danced across the floor into my heart.  One of my last memories of him, I cherish that love that was given one more time after our lengthy friendship. I cannot predict if I will have moments like that with my tribe but I hope so.  I do not want a single moment to be taken away from my life if it affords a memory that will last a lifetime.

What is it about suffering that scares us, both as patient and observer?  Why do so many of us want to flee from it?  I have learned much about loss and grief in these few years of my cancer.  Suffering and pain are not only physical.  The slow stripping away of who I am–or more accurately–who I thought I was–has been enlightening and freeing.  I know that when my health begins to deteriorate that will also teach me valuable lessons.  A friend out west often asks me to share the wisdom I am learning along the way.  I hope that I can say something more in the days ahead about not dying to die that will be helpful for people who face this decision.  I remain grateful for each day, even when my energy allows me to do only a fraction of what I used to do.  I marveled at the ice sparkling in the sun today, despite every step being heavy and tiring.  I want to live each day still with gratitude and joy.  Will you join me?

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

How does suffering scare you?

Can something beautiful come from suffering?

Prayer

Suffering Servant, you are a model for us.  May we take courage that you know our pain and anguish as you accompany us through the valley of death and to our own calvaries. We walk in your footsteps.  May we know your presence each moment.  Amen.

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Showing Up

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Who knows they are deeply loved?  My hand is waving like some third-grade child, knowing for sure that I have the right answer.  I can tell you that without a doubt I am blessed beyond words by how much love comes my way most days.  I knew this even before I became ill.  I am so grateful for the outpouring of people who have shown up in my life over the decades.  At this juncture in life, I acknowledge that love is an abundance for me.

One of my dear friends gave me Kara Tippetts’ book justshowup: the dance of walking through suffering together.  I began reading it fairly recently and concur how Kara talks about Big Love and a wonderful life.  Many of us live small–too scared to make ourselves vulnerable and open.  I have tried for a long time to live and love big, to take risks with my heart, actions and words.   Life has been a wild, glorious adventure to me that has afforded me miracles and mercy.  I may not be as extroverted as Kara was but I know I need people.  I enjoy talking with strangers who later have become friends.  I push the limits of my comfort zone and have gained so much by that.  Now I reap the benefits of being loved in a way that I would not really wish on anyone but I am still learning how to let people show up for me.   This book may be a gift that gives more than expected.

Kara starts the book simply and shockingly:

Hi. My name is Kara Tippetts, and I may not be alive when you read this book. I hope so, but I don’t know.  That decision is in the hands of the Author of my life–His name is Jesus. I trust Him with every ounce of who I am.

I think I would have adored Kara.  We seemed to have had a lot in common. I am anxious to see what she, along with her friend and co-author Jill Lynn Buteyn, will teach me about opening more and letting people show up for me.  Over these years of being sick, I have learned to let people into my life in ways that are sacred. I have let them serve me and that has been humbling.  Kara pinpoints her need for community, as do I. My tribe has shown up for me, my family, and one another.  The love I have experienced is overwhelming:   Whatever you need, Zanna.  Just name it, Suz.  Of course, I can do that.  I am here for you is what they are saying because we love one another. This, I agree with Kara, is all rooted in Christ who has shown up and modeled for us, what everlasting love is when he called us friends.

I have entrusted certain tribe members with great responsibility.  Some form an inner circle that is helping me think through end-of-life decisions–they get to see my heart of hearts.  I trust them completely.   Some of the same folks plus a small group of others will help me plan my funeral in the coming weeks.   I look forward to that in an odd sort of way.  These people are showing up on a level that is extraordinary.  Others show up with soup runs, wonderful cards with handwritten notes from across the ocean that bring a smile to my face, prayer times, thoughtful gifts that arrive in perfect time, offers to walk with me, and affirming words.  My people are all in for the most part.  So am I–as much as humanly possible.

Today, I knelt before the Blessed Sacrament and returned showing up.  My long list of intercessory prayer needs poured out to my Beloved, followed by thankfulness for those who are praying for me.  Even in my illness, I want to show up for these dear hearts.  I want to be there for them.  I seemed to be having a great day health-wise and so my energy was directed outwards instead of inwards.  I felt almost normal most of the day.  I was even able to go over to my mother’s and help with a number of tasks that needed to be done.

Christ has modeled well for us what it means to show up…until the end.  I look forward to reading what Jill and Kara have to say about it too.   May we learn to show up and may we also learn to accept being shown up to.  Both present a challenge of their own.  A deep love accompanies each act.  May you know it in your lifetime.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

When was the last time you showed up for someone going through a challenging time?

When was the last time someone showed up for you when you needed it most?

Prayer

You show up, Jesus, all the time, in my life.  Sometimes you send someone with skin on in your stead to make sure I know that you are at work, caring for my every need.  Showing up takes courage.  Allowing others to show up takes vulnerability.  May I be open to both in the remainder of my days so that I may know how deeply and preciously I am loved and how much love I can still pour out in your marvelous name.  Amen.

 

 

 

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Abounding Grace

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I have known how to do the first part of this adventure with a certain amount of grace because it was not so foreign to me.  When I found out that I had an aggressive form of cancer–cholangiocarcinoma–I made a conscious decision to live every day as fully and gratefully as I could.  The prognosis was bleak at times; on occasion it was hopeful, but the surgeon had been clear from the beginning that my survival was doubtful. I have had lots of time to wrap my head around this and to accept the fact that I am dying.  No one really knows how long I have at the moment.  I am not yet deemed palliative which would constitute less than six months to live from a medical definition.

The second part of this adventure is beginning and this is the part where I have no idea what to expect or how much grace I will be able to muster.  Up until a month ago, I had not been on any medications of any kind.  A trip to Urgent CancerCare changed that.  Somehow I agreed to try steroids without really understanding what that would involve.  Everyone has assumed that I have been on prednisone but I was given dexamethasone. The drugs served a purpose for a brief time and I am grateful for that but the side effects have been less than desirable.  Last night, unable to sleep, I searched the internet for more information.  Yes, the mood shifts are caused by this drug.  I have been canceling social events and staying home, unable to predict when a certain darkness might settle in for a bit.  The loss of taste is also a side effect.  I am gorging food without tasting it and my distended stomach still may have an alien hand popping out of it any time soon. Apparently, the lack of taste may last up to six weeks after stopping the steroids.  Sleeping has been a bit of an issue.  I wake up at some point in the middle of the night and cannot fall back asleep right away.  I am finding bruises on my body that I have no memory of creating.  The aches and pains in joints are a bit startling.  Then there is the nausea.  I suddenly feel like a sick person.  I am hoping that by the time I am weaned off the steroids in a few days that I will be able to cope better than I have been.  I am sure for people who have spent time with me in this last week or so, the description I am painting seems exaggerated.   Most of these physical symptoms happen at night when I am alone.

What has arisen in me is wondering what the coming months will bring.  My situation is  turning.  Until now, I have been pain-free for the most part. I am unsure of what I will be like once I get off these meds.  I hope for the best. I keep coming back to several tangible pieces of the puzzle that help.  I am surrounded by a fabulous supportive community who shows up when I need them.  I have a strong faith that guides and upholds me. I depend on abundant grace, mentioned in the First Reading from Romans 5.  Jesus in the Gospel of Luke today says that we all need to be dressed for action and have our lamps lit.  That heartened me after my sleepless night. Whatever darkness may come, I have a light and I am dressed for action.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

Where do you manage grace well?

Where is grace a question mark for you?

Prayer

Lamp-Lighter, you call us to be dressed for action whatever the circumstances and fill us with abundant grace.  May we trust in you at each step.  Amen.

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