Sharing Our Humanity

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During the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, retreatants spend some time contemplating on the birth of Jesus.  Directors often encourage them to pick the Divine Infant and hold the new-born King.  Often it is Mary who gently offers the Child. I have done this several times over the years as it is a precious moment of snuggling with the human Jesus who has come to share our humanity.   This is the moment of Incarnation–of our Saviour becoming one of us.

On this Holy Christmas Day, some of us will also be reflecting why Christ came.   He lived to die in order to save us.  Yet he did not do so begrudgingly.  He gave willing, not wasting a moment of the 33 years here on earth.  He healed people.  He helped those who had gone astray to find the right path again. He developed relationships.  He attended parties and gatherings.  He worked humbly as a carpenter.  He took care of his mother after his earthly father died. He studied and shared the Scripture with those who would listen.  He changed people’s hearts and minds.  He pointed people to Life. He knew the political climate of the day and responded to it with the eyes of mercy and compassion as well as justice and defiance.  Christ did not stand down to oppression but stood up for the oppressed.

We too are given life and asked to use it well in order to be Christ’s hands and feet in this world.  We are to let the Incarnate One shine through us.  So often at the end of the Exercises I see transformed people. The Infinite Infant has found a new home.  People have welcomed him into the stable of their messy lives. Last night at mass during the homily the presider sang part of an old Crash Test Dummies/Brad Roberts hit (I know others have recorded it but I originally know the song via this Winnipeg band), One of Us?

What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Tryin’ to make his way home?

God did become one of us that holy night in Bethlehem. We must keep our eyes peeled to see this Glorious One in those around us.  I have seen that face often in these past five weeks as people have cared and carried me.  I am grateful for having eyes to see and a heart that recognizes the blessings that have been given.  The path has not been straight and I have been a slob about my graciousness some days.  The concussion makes it hard for me to tolerate noise and my memory is still a bit wonky–even wonkier than normal.  Yet in it all, I feel the touch of God.  My doctors in the hospital during my three-plus week stay were fabulous.  The overworked staff did their best to meet my needs.  One nurse laughed out loud going off his overnight shift one night when I thanked him.  For what? he joked, you were my easiest patient. You asked nothing of me all night.  However he had left me alone so I could sleep and that was what I had needed most.

God is in all things and having shared humanity with us once, we should keep an eye out for that Holy Presence daily.  One never knows when it will appear.  To be home and to have shared what may be my last Christmas with family and my church community are enough for me.   I am learning to fall on my knees in the dirty stable and worship on a new level and that too is more than enough for me. I am trying to make my way Home as a person who will have sufficient love, peace, grace, and joy in her heart. Like the retreatants, I want to be transformed and though the past month and a half have been a heavy cross, I have for several years now tied the Birth with the Death and Resurrection.  May I continue to learn the lessons that I need for this adventure of mine.

Blessings this Holy Day to you and yours.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

What lessons can you learn in the dirty stable on your knees this Christmas?

Where has the Incarnate One appeared to you today?

Prayer

Sharer of Humanity, thank you for becoming one of us.  You shared this earthly journey with us and therefore you know our anger, pain, sadness, joy, love, confusion, and needs before we often do ourselves.  You gift yourself to us endlessly.  Time and again you come to us anew, reminding us Whose we are.  This Christmas may my heart receive you as the joyous angels and hope-filled shepherds did.  Let me fall on my knees and worship.  Amen.

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Gift of the Long Goodbye

03ED924D-0409-4032-8824-D39CB96E01B2A death can occur suddenly or be drawn out.  Since my own diagnosis, a number of people I know have died before I have. The unexpected deaths can shake others to the core. If the person has not prepared for the end of life details then it also bears hardship on the remaining loved ones.

What about the long goodbye? Is it a blessing or a curse?  In reading the book Just Show Up by Kara Tippetts and Jill Lynn Buteyn, Jill says they have been given the gift of a long goodbye. She says that they are thankful for every moment with her and yet it’s painful watching her suffer. Loved ones  have not seen me suffer too much, until maybe recently. That hard work is coming.

We have had the blessing of beginning to say the words we need to say, of making memories, of taking photographs, and of learning lessons that change lives.

The long goodbye also allows for the not so pleasant parts of this hard adventure. There are moments when I cannot find the graciousness I need, when I cannot explain to formerly close friends why they are not always in the inner circle, or when I am trying hard to forgive.  For those on the path with me, they need to sort through the pain of losing me while I still linger, the confusion of not always having me available like I used to be, and dealing with the new Suzanne who is trying to etch out better boundaries.  They also need to deal with their own denial about the surreal nature of what is to come.

With all these things come a certain redemption, healing, and valuable life lessons yet to learn. I suppose there are easier ways to come to this place in life. I try still to see God in all things, Divine fingerprints scattered over the pages of my life, the lives of those around me. and the beauty of Creation. I must learn to see God in the suffering too during these days of the long goodbye. The gifts will be oddly wrapped for all of us but we must remain open to the beauty of these too. I keep my eyes on the prize of Home and know that I will rejoice in that hello.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions 

Sudden deaths and long goodbyes each are hard. What has been your experience?

What can suffering teach us?

Prayer

The long goodbye is an odd gift, Creator.  Teach us all to use the time well until I rejoice in seeing you face-to-face  Amen.

 

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Holding My Hand

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Today’s reading from Isaiah 41 is a good reminder of our creaturehood.  The Lord calls Jacob a worm and Israel an insect, promising to help them as their Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. The Lord says I, the Lord your God hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, do not fear, I will help you. 

I have been very aware of my creaturehood in the hospital. There is so much dignity that can be stripped away in this milieu. This morning for example while the two female health care aides checked another patient, the male came to me to see if I had bed sores. As I mooned him, I realized how I could feel humiliated or make light of the awkwardness of the moment. There is no place for modesty here, something I learned from my hospital stay during my resection.

A woman who had been sharing the room with me last week would wake up in the middle of the night and pray in great distress: Lord, come to help me. I don’t know why this is happening to me.  Be merciful to me, Lord.  Despite her dementia, she still asked God to help her. Her prayer moved me.

I feel God‘s right hand holding mine as I reach the two-week mark of being in the hospital with no discharge date in sight. It has been a little bit frustrating at times. I see my body waste away and I get nervous. However today I surpassed my goal of making it to the love seat and walked to the next configuration of furniture. The chatty physiotherapy assistant simply kept moving me forward and I followed. I’m sure God was my second spotter. We sat for awhile before heading back to the room for my exercises.

I do feel sort of like a bug-somewhat insignificant and worthless stuck in this bed until I realize that God can use me and teach me here too. God will take me by the hand and lead me to places I don’t necessarily want to go. I still need to follow the Creator, trusting the Plan. I will not be afraid because I know God will help me.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions 

When have you felt your creaturehood most strongly?

When have you felt God holding your hand?

Prayer

Hand-Holder, you are with me, aware of my needs before I am. Stay with me and lead me on. I will not fear for you are with me. Amen.

 

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Rest for Your Soul

421A2653-A7F7-407E-BE6C-80759FEB84CCToday’s readings are about rest. Isaiah 40 assures us that the Lord will renew our strength, we shall mount up with wings like eagles and we shall run and not be weary. The Gospel reading for Matthew 11 is an all-time favorite, where Jesus tells the crowd, Come to me all you that are weary and your carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest…. you will find rest for your souls. This has been a beautiful invitation at various points in my life.

Having now rested for almost 2 weeks straight, my soul is the only thing that does feel at peace. I am still very tired as my body heals itself from a broken ankle and a concussion. In my waking hours I have  continued to sort through  big questions. The other night I had a good talk with the young man who is doing his residency in chaplaincy here. I think he was very surprised at where I am at spiritually. He was very affirming and had some insights for me that were helpful.

My body however continues to be weak. I have been up now for two days in a row with a walker. This purple flamingo can only make it to the chair in the hall. Tomorrow’s goal for myself is to make it as far as the loveseat.  I have been occasionally sitting in a chair for an hour and when I move back to bed I feel how exhausted my body is. Who knew that sitting could cause such weariness?  I look forward to the day when I mount up like an eagle and will not be so weary.

I pass the time praying, responding to emails and other messages, reading some excellent books, and visiting with people. I also have medical people coming to see me during the day to weigh in on how I’m doing.  On the Wi-Fi here, I managed to stream one movie. I have also listened to part of a Brené Brown series on leadership that I bought some time ago but I never listened to. I am catching up on a few things besides my sleep I guess.

I do trust the Lord to renew my strength, especially if I yoke myself to Jesus. I believe in God‘s loving mercy and power to heal.  I know that I am finding rest from buys so during this time. As I have said so often here I am in good hands because I am in God’s hands. Thanks be to God!

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions 

When have you found rest for your soul?

What is the cause of your weariness right now?

Prayer

Bestower of Rest, let me yoke myself to you so that my soul may mount up like eagles as my body recovers. Only then may I free fall into your good hands. Amen.

 

 

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Code Blue in the Satellite Lab

2EEE4731-8BFF-4C4B-A168-FE4D3667D690“That cannot be for me,” I thought, as I lay there on the floor, holding my leg proudly in the air, like some wounded flamingo. “Code Blue-doesn’t that mean I’m having a heart event?”

i had gone to the Satellite Lab for blood work on my knee scooter after a friend had dropped me off at the hospital door. When my lucky number 11 was called quickly,  I was happy because it would mean that I could get to my 10:30 appointment at another clinic so that my broken ankle could be casted finally.  Everything was working out perfectly.

I scooted up to the lab chair and assessed the situation. I was pretty sure that I could transfer from my scooter to the chair by myself. That was my first mistake. My second mistake was not waiting for someone to be in the same cubicle before I tried to transfer.  I’m not exactly sure what happened. Either I missed what I was trying to grab, lost my balance, and fell or whatever I was aiming for was not secure and moved which resulted in the same outcome.  I consciously did not put weight on my broken ankle and managed to hold it in the air as I fell. I heard the crack reverberate through my head as I hit the floor.  I could hear people – the staff – calling out around me. Over the PA system was the announcement of a code blue in the satellite map. Surely that wasn’t for me?

I closed my eyes when I became dizzy. I don’t remember being out but staff did say I was.  I know that my head was spinning inside and I didn’t want to open my eyes to see the result of the fall. I could not believe  what had happened. My life was turning into a bad Mr. Bean movie

When I did open them I was surrounded by a number of doctors who had responded to the code blue.  They began to ask me questions and I answered them coherently.  One of the doctors checked to make sure there was no damage to my spine or neck.  They asked if I could sit up but my head was spinning still.  I put a hand behind my head and in a few moments could feel the warmth of blood oozing down. When I pulled out my bloody hand from behind my head, and announced I was bleeding, someone checked it and said that I would probably need stitches.  My heart sank.

The story is long and I will fill in the details as time goes by in future posts. I could not remember the password for my blog so I have been locked out until I finally remembered it. I remain in hospital as I write this, too dizzy from a mild concussion to return home with my broken ankle on which I cannot bear weight.

For the first few days, I slept and did not allow for visitors other than my mother, my sister and my friend who was with me when I came for the blood work.   I do not mind being in a bubble because I have been scared another injury may happen.  The broken ankle and this mild concussion are enough  to deal with. The concussion comes with a fair amount of dizziness so I am bedridden..

Today’s beautiful readings on the second Sunday of Advent fit perfectly with my situation. Isaiah 40 begins with “Comfort, comfort my people.”  It ends with the promise that “God will gather the lambs in his arms and carry them in his bosom and gently lead the mother sheep.”   I know that God desires to comfort me and to gather me into loving arms. The Second Reading from 2 Peter 3 has advice for the reader: “Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace.” The reference here is waiting for a new heaven and a new earth to appear. While I wait, I pray for peace.  The Gospel today speaks about preparing the way, something I must do.  Time is of the essence for me.

On this Second Sunday of Advent, I pray for for peace in my own heart  and in yours. May you find comfort in the arms of a loving God  as we prepare for the coming of the Incarnate One.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

Has your life ever seemed like a Code Blue—a critical incident?

How are you preparing the way, regardless of your current circumstances?

Prayer

Compassionate Comforter, gently gather me in your arms, lifting my spirits and revealing your glory. Bring peace in whatever circumstances I find myself as I wait to see you face-to-face. Amen.

 

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Love Is Not Finished Yet

IMG_0296Hope is fragile but tenacious. These past couple of weeks have been an emotional roller coaster for me. When I met with my social worker yesterday  I confessed that I had lost some of my courage. Fear is something I have tried to walk through consciously since I turned 40. I really wanted to be free of all that would bind me and prevent me from living a full life. However, breaking my  ankle, on top of everything that I was experiencing with the cancer symptoms, undid me for days.  Each time I thought I had no more tears left in me, they would come, flowing like a waterfall. I was unsure I had any reserve of courage, hope or strength to get through this new turn in the road and all that would come with it.

Unless you have been here, you may not understand completely what I am talking about. These past six months have had a lot of trauma. I do not think that I mentioned that on the way home from the fall, a car ran the red light at the intersection by my home and would surely have killed both my friend and I had we stepped off the curb.  I have so much to process about all the disturbing events since May.  Yes, it has been balanced with much love and generosity.  The totality of all that has happened to me bears a great cost. Both the good and the bad are shaping me in new and different ways. It’s not easy for me, nor is it easy for loved ones.  I am not looking for sympathy or even affirmation. I desire understanding.

For almost 3 years, I have ploughed ahead, keeping my eyes on my Beloved and believing, despite the  anticipated outcome, that I can survive the rough parts of this  adventure. The experience has changed me, not always for the better. I find I have little patience for people who cannot be real. I am not looking for false hope, platitudes, or Messiahship. I get angry easily with people who want to “overhelp“ me and do not understand how important it is for my dignity and continued healing that I do for myself those things of which I am still capable.  People say all sorts of bewildering statements to me.  I myself have said things that are not helpful to people during times of crisis and I wish people would have said something to me. One of the most helpful responses that I have received since breaking my ankle is the following:

My dear,
I am so sorry to hear about the ankle! Do rest and take care of yourself as much as you can. It is good to know you are in such good hands and company.
We are with you in our thoughts and prayers.
It is wonderful to have your picture, no matter whether you smile or cry.

Why did this bring joy to my heart? Nowhere in it is there an element of blame or punishment, but rather only empathy and compassion.   I feel the care and love.  There is gratitude that I am being taken care of by others as this person lives too far away to be here.  Finally, there is an acceptance of who I am, whether I am having a good day or a bad day.  This was the last email I read last night before turning my lights out and it brought delight.  The words are simple and pure. Anyone can write them yet we often do not know what words will bring comfort or pain.

While many people are suggesting that this period of rest is a good thing for me, the fact is that I am running out of time.  All the plans that I have are put on hold and my heart is broken.  What may be my final Christmas will not be as I imagined.  I am not even sure if I will be able to worship with my community or participate with family and friends as I usually do. I know God will bring good out of this and a blessing will be mine, but at the same time there has to be a mourning period and more letting go than I had imagined.  Getting organized for my funeral and death will be slightly postponed. I was getting very used to resting–sleeping 12 hours a day and resting at least another 2-3 hours.  Now however the day is over before it starts it seems as I find much of what I do exerts more energy than I have or requires more brain power to figure out how to do simple tasks.  This is really the last thing I needed at this moment in my shortened life. Hope has been teetering for almost two weeks now.

This morning I listened to Jason Gray’s Love Will Have the Final Word. As I try to regain my step on my one good leg, I am heartened that God is not yet finished with me.  Despite my lack of grace and kindness, this story is not yet over. Love will have the final word. I can still be transformed.  This flamingo will find her courage again.  I will be carried by a tenacious hope. What is temporarily broken will heal.  My outlook will shift once again.  I will do a hobble kitchen dance soon enough.  I have always believed that this is a win-win situation for me. I am in the good hands of God who did not wish this upon me and will bring good out of this disappointment for me.  I cling to the concept of praising God through it all, though on occasion as I stand in the middle of this Mystery, I do ask Really?  Really, God?  I do not expect an answer ever but I do feel the need to release my frustration to the One-Who-Understands.  This One knows the ending of the story unlike the rest of us. My trust is still in my Beloved.  Love will have the final word and this story is not yet completely written.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

What final word do you hope that Love has for you?

What has someone said to you that has been helpful instead of hurtful in a trying situation?

Prayer

Beloved, you alone know the plans for me.  Increase my courage to face the days ahead.  When fear rises, remind me that this is not yet the final word that Love will speak.  Amen.

 

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Ungrateful Hearts

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My friends to the south are celebrating Thanksgiving today.  I have been thinking about praise and thanks lately.  I have been missing in action on this page for just over a week now.  With everything else I am sorting, through 8 days ago I tripped and broke my ankle.  I thought I had badly sprained it so I walked on it from the time I got up until two days later.  When I learned that I had broken it, my world crumbled a bit.

I am starting to feel as if I am running out of time and was looking forward to celebrating some special moments leading up to and during the holidays–more specifically what will probably be my last Christmas.  The thought of being housebound instead for six to eight weeks devastated me. As the medical team that saw me that day listed the limitations of my break, I canceled one engagement after another in my head. Then I started to cry at the unfairness of it all. The person making my half-cast turned away and gave me a moment.

The other day I read these words in Jesus Always: You cannot worship me acceptably with an ungrateful heart.   I had to do a check-in.  In the first few hours of learning about the break I was distraught.  An out-of-town friend was arriving shortly to spend the weekend with me and I would not even be at the airport to pick her up.  Another friend was picking her up though and a number of things were falling into place.  I was grateful to have someone with me for those first few days.  Though it looked very different than originally planned our time together was a blessing, punctuated with prayer, love and service.

I was vacillating though as I realized how much more I needed to let go of in the next two months.  On the Feast Day of the Presentation of Mary, I had awoken from my sleep and a dream of sorts–I was dancing with Mary, a folk dance of some kind, and she was laughing and smiling, sending me encouragement.  I returned to that over the week, letting her joy chip away at my disappointment.  I may not be kitchen dancing any time soon but Mary will dance for me.  I keep trying to praise God through it all.  I cannot understand this Mystery right now and my tears surprise me when they come.

A friend suggested that I watch Hallmark movies and tonight I plunked myself down in front of the TV and did just that.  I caught the last hour of one and I found myself crying 45-minutes into it.  The reminder to enjoy the present moment and be grateful for it undid me.  I have everything I need on many levels.  Dear ones have stepped up to the plate to provide for my needs.  My freezer is full of meals for next week.  My apartment is clean.  My groceries are bought. My heart is full. In fact, my heart is overwhelmed with such gratitude that I cannot stop crying for that reason either.

I have so many challenging decisions to make in the time ahead.  My hands are open to some degree but at the same time I realize that I am still clinging to earthly matters.  As I have read Maccabees this week, I see the courage of pointing the way to faith.  Some of my tears are that I am not yet ready to let go of everything earthly as much as I have had all this time to prepare.  I remain happy to go but sad to leave. I am beginning to take steps to relinquish some of those earthly ties but this is not easy.  As I said my goodbyes to my friend on Monday, we both cried.  We have 35 years of friendship that have blessed us.  We continue to learn and grow together, as I do with many of my circle.  I look to the mother in Maccabees and want that faith at this stage to do the right things, to invest my energy in pointing to my Creator, and to love as vulnerably as I can while knowing that it will hurt.

I do not have an ungrateful heart but neither do I yet have the faith I desire.  This will not make sense to many readers because many of you think I am like the mother in Maccabees but I do not agree.  I wish I could surrender and trust more. When things no longer make sense, I must learn to stand in the great Mystery of it all and free fall as my social worker one time said.  The good hands of God will catch me and I will be just where I am supposed to be.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

When has your heart been ungrateful?

Does your faith point to God?

Prayer

I am dancing, Creator, in my mind, allowing Mary to show me the way.  May I trust in you as I continue to be stripped away to the bare necessities.  Less of me, Beloved, and my plans and more of you and yours.  Amen.

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