Reaping Joy

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I spent the weekend at a friend’s bed and breakfast, savouring the magical moments that came, while trying to make memories with people I care about.  Several years had passed since I had been there and the woman I had driven out had not seen our gracious host for many years.  Time somehow shifted from chronos to kairos for us, stretching out before us in lazy moments. We could breathe deeply here.

The response to Psalm 126 today is those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy. When I started making memories two years ago with loved ones, the goodbyes were heart-wrenching and the time bittersweet.  I have become better at not wondering if these memories will be the last.  Some dear hearts I have seen several times since we thought this was goodbye.  I now have shifted to shouts of joy whenever possible. None of us know how many days we have–not even those who doctors dare to try to guesstimate. The reality is we must stay in the moment.

Over our first supper — a scrumptious, group-created under the direction of the chef-host — we oohed and aahed at the first delicious bites.  My friend, fork lifted to her mouth, stopped and drew attention to the moment we were all having.  The six of us varied in age but these three young folks in particular understood what she was saying a much as we elders.  We were sharing a moment–one that would never come again–filled with wonder, joy, satisfaction, gratitude, and openness. How often these types of moments slip away without acknowledgement.

I had brought out memories with me–photos of some of our previous moments: the greeting ministry team at our church, a hay ride we had gone on, the host’s 50th birthday party that I had surprised him with, a birthday party that friends threw for my friend and I, my famous Epiphany party where guests dressed as royalty…captured in our hearts forever.  We flipped through them, with phrases like “remember this?!” or “How is so and so now?” Moments stretch out before us and remain with us, solidifying friendships and strengthening hearts.  Moments allow us to reap joy, again and again.

As I continue to make memories, I am grateful to those brave enough to participate. Last night I went to a play with friends.  One drove me home afterwards and we sat in the car, talking for a very long time.  I should have invited her up but instead we stayed where we were.  I think movement might have broken the spell.  At one point, I became very aware that this was another moment, a time to be cherished and appreciated.  Joy was being reaped, even in the midst of hard conversation. How truly blessed am I!

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

What moments in life have brought you deep joy?

Have you ever experienced time shifting from chronos to kairos?

Prayer

Stretcher of Time, you give us all we need in inexplicable moments that last a life time. May we pay attention to the gift of these snippets of joy and savour them as we reap the harvest of their impact. Amen.

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Address Book Changes

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Friendship has ebbs and flows, and trying to weather challenges sometimes changes your address book.   I first found that phrase in a book by Stephanie Ericsson entitled Companion Through the Darkness: Inner Dialogues on Grief.  Ericsson had lost her husband suddenly while she was pregnant with their first child.  She tried to maneuver through the darkness and found that she had to update her address book along the way.  People she thought she could depend on were oddly not able to be there for her.  She also inherited new friends that blessed her in surprising ways.

I have been  thinking about this concept for a few weeks now regarding my own life.  I still struggle to explain why long-time friends who are dear to me are slipping into second place and others who were not in my inner circle have been welcomed at the table.  This reality is a bit sad to me–the slipping of friends, not the adding of new ones.  I wish I could say something to help people transition with me and yet sometimes it is not my work.  I have tried to give hints or even been exceedingly blunt with some people and it has not been successful. I have also tried to figure out what my blocks are so that I can examine what I still need to do in order to become my most authentic self on this adventure.  All I know is that I spend quite a bit of time thinking about it.

The other night I phoned someone I had not spoken to since he learned the news of my cancer.  I have sent him updates but he has not responded.  We had a fun friendship and I missed him.  As we spoke, I sensed his heartache and yet his joy that I had reached out.  I do not know that I will call again but I knew I needed some closure to the friendship.  He is a busy man but I suspected it was more than that.  I know other friends are busy and I worry that they will feel badly they did not make the time to see me.  Some days when I reflect on my father’s sudden death,  I regret that I did not spend more alone time with him these past two years.  I cherish the quiet talks we had in his darkened hospital room. They were like old times.  This may seem odd to say but during his own hospital stays, it allowed us to hang out, just the two of us, and I loved that time.  I valued even the silence of watching him sleep before his eyes would pop open when he sensed my presence.  Few of us learn the treasure of hard time spent together but I am grateful for it and the depths of relationship it causes.

Perhaps that is the challenge for all of us–we need to move out of our comfort zones to places that cause anxiety, honesty, self-reflection, and vulnerability.  I know that the inner circle folks can do that with me.  They are learning or have learned to simply be present in ways that are precious.  The road map is being built at each encounter and the signs are not always clear as to how to proceed.  Sometimes, even I think we need a DANGER sign as we seem to be approaching a precipice and yet we fearlessly move forward, trusting in the process.

A friend of mine recently tried to explain his take on the situation.  I have been holding that concept since because it rang true for me.  He said that many of us are fake and that my situation forces people to be real.  He said it much kinder than that but in essence that is what I took away from our conversation.  As I strip away each mask from my own face, I find my desire is to be with people who are trying to find their own authenticity.  From these people I will find further healing of myself.

Also of importance is a sense of mutuality.  I do not want one-way relationships right now.  I need to feel equal while I still can.  I already have a Saviour to whom I have given my all.  A mutual sense of giving and receiving is life-giving.  The time will come when I will have to relinquish that reciprocity factor but for now I find comfort in people who allow me dignity and yet can still spoil me.  The line is fine, I suppose. I do not want everything to be about me and my illness.  I want to know how life is going for the people I care about and I also want you to check in on me, with care and concern.

The other piece of shifting circles has to do with people’s outlook on life.  I am not always gracious and I can whine about obscure things still.  My hope is that I will be less cranky and more grateful if it is possible.  My expectations might be a little high here but I do remember that change with a friend of mine as she progressed towards Heaven.  I want that for me.  I find I am not as patient as I could be with people who tend to complain more than give thanks as their default personality.  As I sort through boxes and my past opportunities, I think of those people in countries who have a fraction of what we have here.  Many of them have learned the secret of being joyful whatever their circumstances.  That has been an ongoing gift and reminder to me.

I am grateful too that I have lived my life so that at this juncture I do not need to feel much regret.  I want people to know that they should live their lives and not hold back–for a better job, the right time, the perfect partner, more security.  I was saying to my social worker the other day that I have lived as fully as possible–and beyond my means because I have trusted God and have generous friends who have lived vicariously through me.  The people who are in my inner circle are the people who, in various ways,  have the courage to risk and leap into life without a safety net.  I am so proud of them.  They inspire me to keep moving forward and dreaming.  I need that amazing energy around me.

Sadly, energy does count at this stage of the game.  I am distancing myself from negative and fearful people.  I can reach out as I did with that phone call but I will not drag someone where that person is unwilling to go.  I do not have that type of energy to spare.  Some folks are simply better than others at being real.  Real for me means that you can be angry and heartbroken about my health situation. That is a topic we can broach. That will probably put you more in the inner circle.  Real for me is drawing boundaries–another conversation I had with my social worker this week.  The fatigue I experience lately can be overwhelming.  Given who I am and how other people’s energy can suck the life out of me, I am working hard at limiting time with the emotional vampires.  I am not particularly proud to admit this coping mechanism but on the other hand I have worked hard to get to this place of securing necessary boundaries and self-compassion.  Putting myself first does not come naturally for me.

The ebb and flow of friendship is not something to be feared.  Each of us probably have someone that we do not talk to for a long period and then when we sit down the hours flow like a beautiful cascade of live-giving water.  I value those friendships as much as the ones that are more frequent.  I called a friend the other day out east and the joyful surprise in her response to my voice was delightful.  When my cousin calls me as she walks through the wooded area where we walk together, I am there with her. When another cousin sends an email asking how I am doing, I am grateful for his check in.  When a friend suggests a fun outing that will allow us to build memories, I smile. When another friend tries again to make plans but finds me too tired, she understands and I am relieved she does not take it personally that I am postponing.  When someone says I needed time to sort through my sorrow, I appreciate the honesty.  When the ebb has taken its toll, be open to the flow. Trust that the address book is in pencil and changes are never permanent.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

Is there a friend who you need to reach out to for whatever reason?

What places people in your inner circle?

Prayer

Controller of the Tides, you know the ebb and flow of relationships better than any of us.  You were surrounded when all seemed remarkable and deserted by some at your time of need.  A handful of women in particular sensed what you needed.  Thank you for those who will risk and make themselves vulnerable, who weather the strong pulls in either direction.  May I learn the secrets of this courage and strength to be able to use in my own life.  Amen.

 

 

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Sown in the Heart

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When I think about today’s Gospel reading, I cannot help but think of Dad’s garden this year, with its wild mix of weeds and flowers.  Dad was a pretty darn good sower. He always had more tomatoes than he could eat which meant the people around him benefited from that. The last couple of years though Dad began to falter and the garden seemed a bit unruly.  When Jesus uses the parable of the weeds, he knows that not everyone who hears the Word of God will have it take root within their heart.  Some seeds will fall on rocky ground; others get tangled up in weeds; still others will be eaten by birds.  The Evil One is always trying to snatch away what is sown in the heart.

Simply because we are Christians will not ensure that the Word will blossom and take root in our hearts.  One of the most beloved stories from my faith walk is Hind’s Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard.  I often give it as a mandatory read to my retreatants who struggle with self esteem issues.  Towards the end of the book, the protagonist, Much-Afraid, reaches a crucial point in her faith where she realizes that her disordered attachments are too great for her to conquer on her own.  The weeds in her heart have taken control. She needs to have them removed and commits in an astounding act of surrender to doing this. I weep every time I reach this part of the allegory because it is my story too and since reading it, I ask God to do the same for me as was done for Much-Afraid each time I realize that the Love in my heart is being choked out by the weeds.

The other night while reading Jesus Calling during my prayer time, the entry reminded me of Hind’s Feet:

Together we will forge a pathway up the high mountain. The journey is arduous at times, and you are weak. Someday you will dance light-footed on the high peaks; but for now, your walk is often plodding and heavy.  I require you to take the next step, clinging to my hand for strength and direction.  Though the path is difficult and the scenery dull at the moment, there are sparkling surprises just around the bend.  Stay on the path I have selected for you.  It is truly the path of Life.

Life brings us some high peaks and low valleys from which we may believe there is no relief.  That is when we need to yoke ourselves to the One who created us.  When we honestly confront our inner demons, we want to yank them out but sometimes we do not know how.  We must stay the path–the one that leads to Life. The way may be overgrown and treacherous but the trick is to watch for those sparkling surprises. These are glimmers of hope, placed perfectly for our arrival.  We are not to be like those in the parable who hear the Word but allow the world to choke it without bearing a yield.  We are meant to walk to the High Places and bear fruit that yields a hundredfold.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

What does stay the path mean for you right now?

What weeds need to be pulled out of your heart so that Love can blossom there?

Prayer

Seed-Sower, you plant where others cannot.  Then you wait patiently and see what springs up.  Weed-Puller, do not let the Evil One choke out what you have sown. Tear from my heart all that prevents Love from taking root and blossoming.  Water the seeds with joy and mercy, allowing me to bear a yield of one hundred fold for you.  Amen.

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Stone Pillow

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We do not always have physical comforts in life.  Jacob takes a stone for a pillow in the Genesis reading today.  He finds rest for his body but his mind wanders into an amazing dream world where a ladder is set up on earth and reaches heaven.  Angels ascend and descend on it.  God appears and makes promises to Jacob: the land upon which he is sleeping will become his, his offspring will cover the earth, all the families of the world will be blessed because of him, and God will go with him and protect him.

When Jacob awakes, he takes the stone that he used for a pillow and transforms it into a pillar, anointing it with oil. The pillow has become a sacred sign for him and he promises to return to it, with part of what he will have accrued.  What began as a night of weariness became a reason for celebration.  Sometimes, when we just keep putting one foot ahead of another, God shows up in extraordinary ways in our lives.

We have choices in life.  Jacob does not grumble about his rock-hard pillow.  Jacob also has something else that helps him be open to God’s appearance–he gratefully is seeking God in all things.  Surely the Lord is in this place–and I did not know it.  However when he does recognize the holy ground upon which he slept he rejoices. How awesome is this place!  This is the the gate of heaven.  Then he acts on his gratitude and builds a shrine to God. Jacob could have whined about his predicament. He could have stayed up all night and missed the dream.  He could have gotten caught up in the news of his future and run full tilt into the glory that would be his.  He did not do this either.  He took time to honour God.  Jacob uses the source of his discomfort to build a marker in memory of this experience.  God tells him that many people will be blessed in him. Jacob begins by praising the One who with the angels descended the ladder from heaven to earth to give him this news personally.

Many people use their pain stories to perpetuate their victimhood.  Others thrive on resilience and inspire all who witness this.  I am uncomfortable when people tell me that I am remarkable. I do not always agree with the statement because I know that I fall short every single day of where I wish I was in the grace and mercy departments.  I will say that in reading this story today, I do know that people have been blessed through God’s goodness to me.  I hope I point back to the One who has fluffed my pillow numerous times these past few years and know that any ounce of inspiration starts there–in my search for God and my forever relationship with my Creator.  I am hopefully showing people that we all must live until we die.  God has a plan for each of us–a plan of hope and peace, not despair and sorrow.

Wouldn’t it be great if the Holy One would show up in our dreams and let us know?  Perhaps.  If I knew 10 years ago that I would not see 100 would I have done much differently?  I doubt it.  I have tried to live fully from an early age, pushing past fears and stretching my tiny comfort zone.  God was so abundantly gracious to me throughout my life–which does not mean that I have had a bedroom full of feather pillows with satin cases–that I know my life has been amazing. I am thankful for the challenges and the celebrations.  I have seen God in them all.  Hopefully, I erected some pillars along the way too so that God’s goodness is extolled by those who see them.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

When have you not seen God’s presence in a situation that is not easy?

How has God blessed your life?

Prayer

Pillow-Fluffer, you make hard situations more comfortable.   Help us to seek you in all things and to be open to the encounter.   May we always give you thanks and praise for your goodness to us.  May my life be a worthy reflection of the gifts you have given to me.  Amen.

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What Troubles You?

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The angel of God asks Hagar a silly question in my mind, as she sits weeping over her predicament in the desert with her son in Genesis 21What troubles you? The angel knows full well what bothers her.  I like to think that God does hear our cries of desperation and responds somehow, maybe not always by providing the pool of water we have somehow missed, but God will give us what we need. That has mostly been my experience.

Today has been interesting as I am trying to purge my past so I have been going through boxes of papers that I have carted around for years.  I am a sentimental person who has hung onto her yearbooks, school high poetry publications, notes from coursework, handwritten letters from friends around the world, and photographs.   I know you are thinking I am a hoarder but I really cherish these items.  I have breathed a sigh of relief at throwing away a number of empty boxes and dumped out several recycling bins full of papers.  There will be more to come.

As I sorted through these papers, I felt a warmness envelope me.  My growing up years were tough on some levels but I always had people who had me. Interestingly enough, we shared similar values too.  Often when I reminisce with school friends we realize what we did not know about family secrets–the alcoholic father, the mentally ill mother, the suicidal sister, the drug-addicted brother.  I suspect most of us had some shameful secret packed up tightly in our closet.  After spending part of the day dong this, I received a phone call previously booked regarding a project that I am involved with around a study on aging.

The woman on the other end of the line was lovely.   The interviewer takes you through a bunch of statistical questions and then there are certain topics that they focus on that change for each year they call you. I had not done a phone interview since my diagnosis.  I was well aware that this could be interesting but I was not prepared for the questions that came.

This year they were checking childhood abuse scenarios.  The questions were troubling.  Had any of these things happened to you prior to the age of 16?  I managed to answer the questions honestly but there was one that made me stop and think for a moment.  When I clarified the interviewer reacted loudly.  She was shocked but agreed that there was no place on this survey for my answer because I had not had any physical contact. When I was in elementary school I was almost abducted by a bold stranger. Only my strong intuition and street savvy saved me–and the fact that I spotted a friend of mine coming down the street.  He had reached out to grab me but when he saw my friend, he took off.  Police were called but I do not remember anything beyond that. I ended up burying the incident for a decade until my friend’s brother tried to grab my arm and pull me into his car. In a flash, I remembered it.  The poor guy who was only joking around saw that I was deeply troubled by his action but I could not explain to him why.

When I have thought of that early childhood incident, I marvel. Was an angel of God pulling me far enough away from that man’s reach? Did God see that I was in trouble and panicking about how to get out of this dangerous situation? I did spot the pool of water in the form of my friend and I am ever grateful for this odd gift of intuition that I have had from a very early age.

What troubles you? Can you lift your eyes to the One who can release you from your agony? The interviewer found out my health situation, of course, and I told her that my answers might seem weird as we entered the satisfaction with life questions.  Yes, I was happy with life.  I had very few regrets and a fantastic support network.   How many people do you know by name?  I paused before responding with 500.  It seems like an odd question but she said the highest number you could give was 100.  Really? Anyway, the responses I gave made me realize once again how blessed I really am and that I am not troubled about dying.  I have loved my life and even with those Hagar moments, I have thrived. I have embraced it all, knowing that an angel of God is working hard at keeping me safe and caring for my needs.  The reading says at the end that God was with the boy and he had a good life.  That is all I need to know when I am troubled.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

When trouble visits do you look to see if it is accompanied by an angel of God?

Are there any incidents from your childhood that still need healing?

Prayer

Angel of God, remove what troubles me or at least give me the strength to deal with it.  Thank you for always protecting me from evil.  May I move with grace through this world in gratitude and joy.  Amen.

 

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Times of Doubt

IMG_2524Doubting Thomas Feast Day today brings up many questions about poor Thomas who is struggling with his grief.  We have so many questions about grief, God, and goodness. When a death occurs that seems unfair, we can doubt what we have believed all our lives.  When my 26-year-old sister died suddenly almost 25 years ago, someone from my church said he knew exactly how I felt because his 87-year-old grandmother had died the year before.   I looked at him blankly.  I doubt he knew how I felt.  When my 94-year-old grandmother whom I loved dearly died years later, my reaction to her death was different than my sister’s.

Since my sister died, I have always thought that Thomas is misunderstood. Everyone else had processed Christ’s return together. Thomas had missed it.  He longed to see him again just like the others had.   Many people want to see or experience their loved one again somehow after death.   After my sister died,  I would often smell flowers out of nowhere.  Once as I sat with her bereaved partner, I was overwhelmed by the strong aroma of the plant that was nearby.  When he got up to go to the bathroom, I reached out to touch and smell the flowers on the plant.  You can imagine my surprise when there was no scent because they were fake.  I was not the only family member that had this experience.

I have longed for such an encounter with Dad since his passing.  I have had no dreams the way I did when my sister died.  In the hospital, I would ask Dad if he wanted to shave and I would get out his shaver and let him do it for himself.  As the weeks went by and he could no longer do this independently, I would shave him and then put after shave on him.  When I was a little girl, I loved the smell of it because it reminded me of him. I would ask him to put it on me–it smelled so much better to me than Mom’s Evening in Paris perfume.  He obliged sometimes.  About a week ago, I was walking to evening mass and as I stood at the traffic light, waiting for it to change, I was startled by an overpowering whiff of aftershave.  I looked around–wondering if a young man was nearby but I did not see anyone.  I did spot a teenager on a bike a bit later but I had no way of knowing if he had been in the vicinity.  The moment I became aware of the smell it vanished. I had enough time to close my eyes and breathe in, whispering the word Dad.

I understand Thomas.  I empathize with people who struggle to make sense of a death that does not make sense.  I think in some ways Ignatian spirituality has helped me find some peace with the aspect of long life or short.  I believe that people can live a complete life in a short time. Their purpose is accomplished without lingering for decades. I also have come to believe that I will not have a whack of questions for God when I get to Heaven’s gates.  I think all my earthly, limited knowledge will give way to understanding and I will see with God’s eyes why things happened.  God can handle my rage and  have learned not to hide it from him.   As my sister was dying, I would on occasion pop down to pace the hospital chapel and internally scream at God.  Gosh, I held nothing back.  Moments before she died though, I released her into God’s good hands, knowing that she would be lovingly received.

Thomas was a good reminder today that grief is an individual experience.  Some similarities exist but each person must find a way to peace.  Today as I walked along the beach, I came across these purple flowers growing in the sand. I marveled at how God makes all things work together for good.  Thomas proclaims Christ as his Lord and God, seemingly without taking up the offer to touch the wounds.  I trust that my life is in God’s good hands as I proclaim my Saviour my Lord and God.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

Do you remember a time when grief almost crushed you?

What memories of the deceased bring you back to solid ground?

Prayer

My Lord and my God, I trust in you, even when I do not understand your ways.  I sometimes feel like a purple flower planted in shifting sands and yet, I stand upon a solid rock.  You are a good God and into your hands I place my life.  Amen.

 

 

 

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As You Choose

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My pastor told an interesting story today at mass. The gist of it went something like this:

Near a village lived an old man who was very wise and could answer hard questions.  Many people came to him, seeking his knowledge.  One of the boys in the village decided to trick the old man in order to ruin his reputation.  He decided to catch a bird and then ask the man what was in his hands.  If he guessed rightly, he had a second question ready.  Was the bird dead or alive? If he guessed alive, he would crush the bird, killing it.  If he guessed dead, he would let the bird fly free, exposing the ineptness of the sage either way.

When the man arrived in the village one day, the boy hurried to catch a bird and presented himself to him, asking what was in his hands.  After a brief pause, the elder responded he had a bird.  When the boy asked the second question about whether it was dead or alive, the man looked deep into the boy’s eyes silently for awhile before finally saying:  “It is as you choose it.”

The art of storytelling is ancient. In my country, celebrating 150 years today, oral tradition dates back even further for our Indigenous people. Jesus too was a storyteller. Using stories to make a point often helps us to remember a lesson.  The reading today was for some odd reason not the one in the missal. We heard about Jesus curing the 10 lepers and having only one return to give thanks.  This too is a story of  you choose it.  We have daily choices and we do not always chose wisely.

In the story, the youngster is trying to dishonour and discredit the sage.  In the Gospel reading, only one of the ten returns to honour and credit Jesus with his healing. Two very different choices are made. Why is it we try to destroy other people? How come we do not rejoice in the gift of another? Why do some people act with compassion and mercy while others do not? Each of us is given the opportunity to do the right thing.  Sometimes we fail.  I am certainly not perfect but in this stage of life that I am entering, I find that I desire to be more compassionate and merciful.

What happens when we are dishonoured and put down?  I have been returning to the Principle and Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises to the states of comparison lately.  I realize that some are easier to embrace than others. The sage in the story rose above the deceptive attempt and placed the decision squarely on the boy. If only most of us could reach deep into ourselves, beyond our egos and fears, and act similarly. The majority of the lepers did not return to give Jesus the honour and gratitude he deserved.  I wonder if they ever saw him again and felt remorse for their oversight. Perhaps during his public disgracing on the Via Delorosa?

Our daily lives are filled with choices from the moment we open our eyes.  Before I get out of bed, I try to do my morning offer–expressing my love for the Creator and my gratitude for the gifts received.  This is followed by offering God all my works, prayers, joys and sorrows. This is a leap of faith–to be thankful for whatever will come even before my feet touch the ground. I make a choice that I will love and be grateful.  As the Suspice says, You have given all to me, now I return it.  I make the choice daily to try to be a gift and receive the great Gift. Some days I fail miserably at honouring those I encounter.  Some days I choose unwisely. The Examen clarifies at day’s end how I have done.

I live in a great land, where the ancestors of the people share a scarred history.  Much dishonour came to the people who lived here first when the foreigners arrived.  That continues to this day.  I have halfheartedly celebrated this milestone and avoided some of the bigger venues for various reasons.  I will soon step out onto my balcony, having chosen to stay in tonight and watch the fireworks from home.  My view will be partially obscured and I am a person who finds the live light show fascinating so I am now second-guessing my decision.  I am sure it will be a spectacular 20 minutes and 17 second display.  I am learning to live with my choices, even the small ones that do not make a difference in the bigger picture.

God bless this land in which I live and God bless us as we navigate the many choices we make on a daily basis.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

When have you had to make a difficult choice?

Have you experienced a time when you felt dishonoured? How did you react?

Prayer

Sage Creator, you act with compassion and mercy, even when discredited and dishonoured.  Teach me how to be more like you so that I will make honourable choices in my daily life.  May each day begin and end with praising and thanking you with a heart full of love. Amen.

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