Counting Hairs

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God knows the number of hairs on your head we are told in the Gospel Reading from Matthew 10 today.  That is a God who is paying very close attention. We are worth more than many sparrows so we have no need to be afraid. Some people find this notion hard to agree with.  I mean really, how can God know the number of hairs on my head?

After surgery two years ago, I started to lose my hair.  I noticed it first in the shower but could see strands littering my clothing and bedding.  Stress, I remember thinking because my poor body had been so traumatized.   I mentioned it to my family doctor who took a look at my curls from her desk and then ran her fingers through them, coming away with a handful of my hair.  She laughed when I told her that a hair stylist who had cut my hair recently said that whoever cut it before had done an odd job.   I sure must have kept God busy those weeks as my hair count changed almost hourly.

I have sometimes wondered if God is truly able to stay on top of Inbox duties.  Did the Creator of the Universe really notice that I have lost 10 hairs that hour or was the Divine One more worried about how my body was recuperating after such an overhaul that it was causing my hair to fall out?  We take Scripture so literally.  In the First Reading, it says that the Lord is like a dread warrior or mighty champion by my side. For some reason, I believe this one more than the ability to count my hairs and report an inventory when called upon.  And to whom exactly would God report that information? I do feel the presence of the Holy One often in my life.  I am sure that at the same time God has better things to do than just hang out with me while temples are being bombed, tanker trunks are bursting into flame, LGBTQ folks are being harassed, black lives are being mowed down, sexual predators are walking away scot-free, famine is wrecking havoc in an African country, and so many other needier situations are unfolding.

When I started to suspect that Dad was not going to survive, I simply asked God to do the most merciful thing for him, not for me. That became my prayer–and I trusted it.  One of my dear friends reminds me that I am much more than sparrows when she calls me Sparrow Suzanne.  In Psalm 69, we sang tonight that God answers us with great love. Sometimes we miss that mercy which is being shown to us. In another one of the songs (a pumped-up version of this link) entitled Rest we are reminded that even when we walk through the valley of death, we have a memory of God’s faithfulness in our lives that we must trust. I believe in this, even when the present moment is painful.

Prayer is a mystery to me but I feel compelled to pray without understanding the outcome. When I do not know what to ask for or am desperate, I fall back onto my favourite prayers of You take care of the details or I trust You to do the most merciful thing in this situation.  If nothing else prayer changes me. I surrender.  My trust increases. I free fall into whatever comes.  I stop playing God.  I move from my rage into reality. I shift from despair to hope. I arrive at peace. This God of mine has a whole universe to care for and I am a mere speck in it. I am grateful for the crumbs I receive as the Saviour of the World is dealing with catastrophes greater than mine.  I see God’s fingerprints all over my file and I know that I have been heard.  That is enough for me.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

Do you believe that God knows the number of hairs on your head?

How do you pray during challenging times?

Prayer

Creator of the Universe, your inbox is filled to overflowing, with many urgent files spilling out.  How do I rate even a second of your attention? Yet, still I believe you hear me and you love me. You will act in your great mercy and love.  I will trust in you. Amen.

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Out of Sync

 

IMG_9493This morning at mass we sang Christmas carols because it was the Feast of St. John the Baptist. I smiled.  Apparently the 11-year-old prayer warrior who died recently loved Christmas so singing O Come O Come Emmanuel as a processional and Go Tell It On the Mountain as the recessional seemed fitting today. I have felt incredibly fatigued these past few days.  All of the emotions from these past two months have caught up with me.  I let loose a wee bit these past two nights, though very much out of sync with how I am feeling.

Usually when I go out to parties, I am ready when I meet new people with some sort of answer about what I do these days.  I really need to make something up I think–or at least speak in the present tense about what I did so that I do not sound so snobby or demented.  That is what I did last night sort of–I avoided by driving down a detour road.  I ended up saying to someone that I used to volunteer at a bereavement organization. I had given a session for that organization on grieving during the holidays in December for a staff person who happened to also be at the party.  The conversation took a turn as the woman mentioned she was a widow as was her friend who had lost two husbands.  I did not see it coming but I slipped easily into the role of listener despite the recent loss of my father.  I listened to this woman talk about her life and her experience.  At one point I looked deep into her eyes and there along with the sparkle I could see the pain as she told her story.  She too was somewhat out of sync.

Tonight at a different party, I listened as a man filled me in on what was going on his life without once asking me what was new with me.  Sometimes that makes it really easy for me.  Though there was much to celebrate at this particular party, all I could think about was how tired I was.  I needed to get in sync with the festivities but was struggling to do so.

I must admit that these past eight weeks have me sorting through memories–of Dad, my family, friends that I am spending time with, and people I am reconnecting with at both sad and joy-filled events. Time collapses and I find myself remembering parts of my life that I have not thought about in some time. I am grateful for those memories. I am standing in the present but I am whirling back in time.  This can be a bit disorienting but I see it as a gift.   I have had some amazing relationships with people over the decades and hold these recollections dear.  My history is graced and I welcome these moments of nostalgia.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

Do you remember a time when you felt out of sync with what was going on around you?

Have you done a review of your life, looking for moments where you have experienced the blessings of God in powerful ways?

Prayer

I am feeling out of sync, Creator.  I am here but really there.  I am at a party but grieving.  I am vertical but I want to be horizontal.  I look great but I am so weary I do not believe it.  Let me feel it all, and somehow integrate it into my now.  Amen.

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Sowing Bountifully

 

IMG_9520In today’s First Reading from 2 Corinthians 9:6-11, we read that the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Tonight I am incredibly tired.  My mind is on several families who are facing hard times.  In the morning, I will be at a funeral and tonight at a social gathering all of us felt the heaviness of the loss.  However, my mind turns to the beautiful lives of each of these people and the beautiful sowing they have done with their lives.

Last night I called a man who was not at my father’s funeral.  I suspected that Dad’s death had hit him hard.   As we talked and shared stories, I felt his complete devastation at losing his dear friend.  He could not imagine the neighbourhood without my father.  He was like the King of Kensington, the young man said, but of our area.  His stories continued: People would honk as they drove by the house to greet him. Dogs would come bounding up for a treat.  The kids would fly out of the house when they realized that he had come by on his scooter for a visit.  He had been completely shell-shocked at the sudden death. Dad was ever the farmer and had planted a crop of kindness and goodness that people will reap for years to come.

The life we create matters.  The acts of kindness that we do change hearts and lives.  We have absolutely no idea how much the final crop will yield. Is that not the joy of a humble spirit who is greeted by the Lord with a well-done, good and faithful servant? Is that not the reason we weep for our loss? We have choices–some of us learn this at an early age.  Some of us never do.  The length of days we are given is not the determining factor.  Some children are a blessing from an early age.  Others have to work really hard to be generous and loving.  I hope that I will make my farmer-Dad proud when my days come to an end.  More importantly, I hope that the Reaper-of-the-Crop is pleased with the yield.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

What crop are you planting in life?

How many lives are touched by yours?

Prayer

Reaper-of-the-Bounty, may my life yield a crop worthy of all that I have been given.  May I scatter the seeds far and wide and water them well.  May I not sow sparingly out of fear or selfishness. May I share abundantly every good gift given. Multiply the seeds and increase the harvest for your great glory. Amen.

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Remembering the Long Way

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My friend from Germany had sent an email earlier this week, telling me that she would hold my family in her heart on Thursday which in the city in which she would be that day would be celebrating the Feast of Corpus Christi.  That made my heart sing.  Today here in Canada we have caught up as it is the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. My dad’s memorial service and Father’s Day were both also marked by these holy days.

Years ago, the then-pastor of my parish would preach a homily at some weddings that touched me.  I always thought that my father’s life fit into the concept that the priest was explaining.  He suggested that if a couple thought about marriage as the Eucharist the newlyweds would generously offer their body to be broken for one another.  He gave concrete ways of doing this.  I think my father’s body was a walking testimony to how he offered himself for his family.  Dad had so many medical issues and most I suspect were rooted in the hard work that he had done from a very young age to support his family of origin, and then to support us.  I often said that Dad was like a cat with nine lives who had used up eleven of them. I think of that broken body now and am grateful for all that Dad gave to us, for each moment he sacrificed for the greater good of his loved ones, and for his determination to create for us a good life. Dad is free of that body now.

When I did my Ignatian pilgrimage last year, I did a lengthy graced history.  At one point, I began to write Dad a goodbye letter.  I would like to share that unfinished work here:

Dear Dad,

You have been an awesome father  I know I am a daddy’s girl ~ I have always felt loved by you.

When I think of all that you have had to endure in life, I admire your courage and strength.  You have lost so many loved ones in life from an early age that it breaks my heart to add one more to your list.  Death is not our final destination and I do not fear it. I am excited to see Jesus face-to-face and know that he will be pleased to usher you into the Kingdom too.

You have been a good and faithful servant. Your body is a living example of the Love you have given.  From early on in life, you worked hard and had great adventures.  Working on the farm, and in mines, in the lumber forests, and at Swifts, your body endured harsh conditions. You slowly exhibited ill health in your older years because of these jobs. Arthritis and Parkinson’s Disease, in particular, took advantage of your body. I am grateful for all your hard work, Dad, both for your own family and then ours.

You always were there for us, Dad. Cold wintry nights with a flat tire or car trouble – you would come. If I needed a ride to the airport, you’d be there. You were not big on words of affection but your actions showed how much you loved us/me.

You’ve taught me how to do my end of days well – with courage, strength and grace – because of all your surgeries and sicknesses. I remember after you received the news about your congestive heart failure (which apparently turned out to be COPD instead) –  you were in the kitchen and you could not catch your breath. How frightening that must have been for you! I took Mom out to the store to give you a bit of peace and when we returned you were calm. You had accepted this latest medical issue.

We are both criers, you and I. I have learned more and more to accept my tears as a gift. I’ve always marveled at how as a man you have let your tears flow freely. Your soft heart is a gift. It balances the part of you that can explode.

You taught me how important it was to be a gracious host and to welcome family in particular. You always rallied health-wise where family is concerned. If someone was coming in for a visit, you would get a second wind and seem to improve. I loved that about you.

That was as far as I got, thinking I had plenty of time to finish it.  I was not able to thank him for the skating rinks he made in the back yard, the sled rides to the candy store down the street, for taking a carload of us piled into the station wagon to the drive-in, for ensuring we had fresh garden produce and flowers, for family BBQs,  the numerous times he checked the oil in my car, for providing a summer haven at the campground for us, for driving halfway across the country in a pickup truck and a trailer every summer which instilled in us/me a great love for travel and seeing the world, for taking time to sit on the steps and watch that world go by when you could no longer get out, for a great sense of humour,  for music, and for so many every day gifts that are gone from my sight but not my heart. You blessed us, Papa. I am very grateful for that.

Tonight I will stand in front of my congregation and read these words from the First Reading of Deuteronomy: Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you….and I will think of Dad.  I will honor the long way that he too has led me throughout my life.  I am at peace, knowing that Dad has eaten the Body and tasted the Blood of Christ.  Dad, having done so, is promised in today’s Gospel that he will have eternal life and be risen up on the last day. He spent his life, breaking his body for others.   He can simply rest now that his Home is with God.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

Have you broken your body for others?

What memories do you have of your father this day?

Prayer

Papa-God, thank you for the gift of my papa.  May you share a cold beer today and walk in the heavenly garden.  Let perpertual Light shine upon him, dear God.  Amen.

 

 

 

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Precious in the Sight

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We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed, perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken, struck down, but not destroyed…. 2 Corinthians 8-9

Some days are harder than others. I finally was able to stop today and crawl into bed mid-afternoon.  I had hosted a family lunch, but was feeling incredibly tired.  I may have another infection of some kind like I did in March.  For several nights I had been waking up drenched and I thought it was just hot in my bedroom but I was probably running a fever.  I had seen the telltale signs but I could not fit in a doctor’s appointment until today.  The nurse practioner could not completely confirm what I had but did say that something was not right.  I will know more next week.  For now, sleep and fluids are the best healer.

This morning I got word that another person with cancer for whom I had been praying died and my friend was heading home for the burial.  I had met the woman who is my goddaughter’s grandmother via Skype.  She was a lovely Rwandan who like many in that region understood hospitality.  She was suffering greatly these last few weeks too as the cancer had spread to her bones.  I have yet to talk to my friend but I know that her faith will bring courage. Her short message after inquiring how I am holding up was simple:  Just to let you know that mum has also gone to be with God this morning Amen! I say.  May her home be with God indeed.

Psalm 116 is used today: I kept my faith, even when I said, “I am greatly afflicted.” and later Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones. Three faithful ones have become even more precious now to the Lord as they wind their way Home. They have joyfully crossed the bridge between this world and the next. We who remain with our broken hearts will eventually move forward, grateful that we have someone Beyond who can receive our prayers. We can stay afflicted, crushed, perplexed, struck down, but we will not be crushed.

Today I snuggled into my bed, and let the weariness come.  I did not have to be strong.  I allowed the tears to flow as they have at various points since Dad died.  I miss him.  This grief is complicated by a number of factors. When my sister suddenly died, the next year was filled with 12 more deaths.  I see this pattern beginning again and sigh deeply.  The big difference, of course, is that one of those deaths may well be my own.  Oddly enough, this does not bring me to despair but hope.  I know that my time here is short and I will see these precious souls again in what will seem like a twinkling of an eye. In the meantime, God keeps sending nudges.  As I laid there on my bed, my cell phone tinged.  A loved one was sending some encouragement. I am not alone and I will not fall into despair.  Though the Evil one may try to crush, persecute and destroy me, I am trusting that God will uplift, protect and bless me.  We are precious in the sight of the Lord now; we become even more so when God greets us face-to-face.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

What may be crushing you right now?  How will you manage?

Do you know that you are precious in the sight of the Lord even now?

Prayer

Protector, wrap me in your cloak and keep me safe. You see all that is threatening to crush and destroy my sanity and health.  I give it all to you, Coach, as you cheer me on this challenging path.  I remember too well the sorrows of years gone by but now I know anew that Heaven is my Home and I will keep my eyes on that prize. Grant me peace, courage and hope. Amen.

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Holes

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What do you do with holes in your heart? the kind that create a huge void. the ones that numb you and drain any traces of life and joy from you.  the missing part of you that is now unstable and threatens to come crashing down in the torrent of grief? Do  you know that feeling?  I honestly hope you do not.

Two weeks ago Dad died and I was standing on a beach at low tide looking at rocks that were slowly being smoothed away, their tiny bases impossibly holding up the weight of the burden above. I was grateful for the beauty and the mystery of these formations.  Only now do I see they are a metaphor for me.  Over these past few months, I have been balancing much sorrow, praying for a number of unimaginable scenarios, hoping for a miracle.  I trust God hears my prayers.  I know God is with me.  I do not know how in highest heaven, the Creator figures out how to answer one plea and seemingly ignores the others.  My cancer prayer list is long. My list of other petitions is too.  I am not sure why I offer them up twice a day but somehow I have to believe that it helps, even if it may not appear to on this side of the veil.

I think for my father the one way God answered prayer was that Dad in the end was unafraid to die.  For decades, I sensed a great fear in him.  During a late night conversation in hospital with him about my funeral, I realized that whatever had bound him all those years was gone.  He was free to leave this world at peace.  This was one of the greatest gifts for me during this time. Maybe for the first time in my life, I am understanding this concept of redemptive suffering.  I have never really liked this idea  much but when I think of Dad’s health struggles over the years and especially these last weeks, I think a purification period occurred. That does not fill this hole but it at least allows me to keep that top-heavy pain in check.

As I listened to the news this morning, I thought that the world is going madder by the moment. Another wave erodes the foundation further.  Bombings, fatal fires, shootings, carjackings, and one insanity after the other were reported. A tiny tidal wave crashes ashore.  Broken families, shattered dreams, and gaping hearts lead to exhaustion. All those families now gathered at bedsides, awaiting an outcome, cannot even breathe. I turn to God and ask for help. How will we do it otherwise?

Today the heavens opened wide and rain poured down intensely at times as if God were heartbroken over the state of affairs.  God even has days of sorrow. I am not one to cling to sorrow.  The truth of the matter is while I am very saddened by a number of events in my life and in the world right now, I know that I will see Dad in the span of a twinkling of an eye, in God’s timing.  I am content to know that he will keep his fatherly role of welcoming me Home and protecting me in my final days.  This brings me great comfort.

The world will chip away at joy but it will take a long time to topple it and even then God can create something new with the broken pieces.  Call me a fool, but I still stand under Christ’s standard and believe in hope.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

What bores a hole in your heart?

How do you respond?

Prayer

Heart-Mender, hold my brokenness in your hands and gently transform it. Our world seems so out of control some days.  It is a challenge to stay focused on you when the waves crash around us, trying to topple us.  We will never know on this side what you are doing and why.  I choose to stay the course, trusting you.  Amen.

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Blessed are Those….

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Blessed are those who mourn are among the beatitudes in today’s Gospel. I have been busy since returning home and I know many of you are wondering how I am.  Mourning can be a full time job in these first days, weeks and months, quietly sapping your energy until the exhaustion sets in.  Add to it the fatigue from the cancer and I find myself weary.  I appreciate all the emails, calls, texts, and messages even though I may not respond to each one.  I am grateful for the many offers to have tea, go for a walk, or whatever else comes my way.  I do feel comforted by these kind gestures which is the second half of this particular beatitude. I will accept them at some point.

The hard truth is though that by the time I get home, I just want silence.  One of the things most healing after Dad passed away was to be able to walk along the shores of the beautiful beaches and just be.  This was a gift from the sea and from God.  My decision to go on vacation was not made lightly or selfishly.  I agonized over it for days before suddenly reached a calm place.  I left with great peace and what I believed was Dad’s blessing. My strong sense was that he would not wait for me to return.

This photo was taken the night Dad died. I had walked along the beach and then came up to the boardwalk on Cavendish Beach. As I looked at this photograph last night, I realized that is a symbol for me of what we cannot see on the other side.  Over that grass-covered hill, we can see the ocean in the distance but we cannot see what else is there.  The dunes hide the treasure of the beach and red rocks below. You get a glimpse of them but the breath-taking nature of them cannot be seen from this side.  You must go to the other side to really appreciate all that is there.

God has given exactly what I have needed when a particular moment becomes challenging.  I am thankful for the handful of mercy that is given each day.  When I find myself seeking God in all things and sure enough Grace arrives, in its own way and time.  Many of the beatitudes fit for those who are grieving: blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the meek.  For those who remain on this side of the veil, we are asked to trust that what is on the other side is beautiful and healing.  I do. I always will.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

What do you know of the Other Side?

How do you practice self-compassion?

Prayer

Compassionate One, teach me to exercise compassion towards myself. In the many calls for attention, let me focus on what you are calling me to. Allow me to seek you first and foremost in all things.  As I stand on this side, I look forward to exploring the other side in due time and reuniting with all the ones I have loved that have gone before me.  Papa will welcome me to the shores of my new Home which  brings me much peace and joy. Amen.

 

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