Only Imagine

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We all do it at some point. We lose our way, fear gets the best of us, temptation seemingly cannot be overcome.  We betray the Beloved.  I have done it. I still do it some days.  I probably will until I take my last breath.  Does that mean I won’t get into heaven?  As you can imagine I have pondered this question before–not just when I became ill, but twenty years ago when I first took the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. The time I spent exploring the question then has prepared me for now.  The loving God that I know will not hold my petty sins against me. This is my belief.

When I first heard the song I Can Only Imagine,  I was struck by the lyrics and wondered what exactly I would do when I came face-to-face with God. The song worked itself into my core being and whenever I listened to it, I found myself curious how the reunion would play out.  I think I could go either way–dance or be still, throw my arms around God or kneel before the Divine and worship.  I can only imagine what that moment will be like but I know that there will be no fear–just joy, love and peace.

Tonight friends and I saw the movie by the same name.  It is a compelling, honest look at redemption and how if we open our hearts, healing is possible.  God lets even one-time monsters into heaven. The father-son story is painful–the damage visited upon the next generation because of sin is heart-wrenching. The masks we wear to hide our childhood trauma or other suffering do not redeem us.  The only way to a new place is to face the old ghosts head on. When we are finally ready to acknowledge that we are not living fully because of what holds us back,  we can modify our life course. If we want to alter our lives, we need to lay our burdens on the altar. This film shows it is possible.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

What beliefs do you have about heaven?

Are there ghosts holding you hostage when you desire to be free?

Prayer

I can only imagine what it will be like on that glorious day when I see you face-to-face. Whatever scenario I create, I know that joy, love and peace await me.  Thank you, Beloved, for waiting to welcome this wayward women Home.  Amen.

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For You, Anything

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These are strange and wonderful times where some people can say what they need to say clearly. I love that.  I have pondered so much in my heart lately.  I am full.  Today’s Gospel reading is the Prodigal Son.  I almost understand better how overwhelmed and humbled he must have felt. I believe I am already being offered a feast shared with the most amazing guests.

I had to ask a friend a really hard question the other day.  I have been asking people to be involved in my prayer vigil and funeral which are drafted out.  I knew this would be a particularly hard ask. She responded with a yes but no, not really.  She did not want to do it.  She followed that up with some words that others have said:  For you, Suzanne, anything.  I got a bit teary.  I feel so undeserving of the generosity sometimes and yet this prodigal daughter shows up and keeps asking for more.  Kind hearts keep responding. If humans can be this lavish, how much more can God be?

Earlier this week I gathered with some folks from a community I used to worship with and a couple of the people from my support circle for some prayer and song. At the end of the precious evening, I felt a great peace had settled upon the room.  It remained with me as I returned home.  These gracious people opened their home and hearts to me, feeding my soul.  I will long be grateful for such acts of kindness.

I often wonder how the Prodigal Son did in the weeks after the feast.  Sometimes in prayer, especially when I do the Examen, I am moved to tears by the mercy shown me. I remember all those acts of goodness bestowed upon me and pray for the givers.  I recall those who are praying for me, including a large number of strangers around the world who have heard about my situation through prayer chains or requests.  Did the Prodigal ever stop to pinch himself, awestruck by the life he has been regifted? I know that sometimes I do. Even in the knowing that the end is coming, I am ever in love with this life and those who uphold me.  I will miss it dearly when I transition to the other side.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

When have people reached out to you when you needed it most?

What makes you pinch yourself and wonder how your life ever got this blessed?

Prayer

You-Who-Welcome-Us-Home, you ask no questions, seek no apologies.  You simply lavishly bestow us with more than we can ask or imagine. For you, beloved child, anything, I hear you whisper in my ear as You welcome me each time I come to you.  I am so grateful.  Amen.

 

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God’s Test

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I always feel a bit odd when I read about God testing the people.  Tonight I read at mass.  I hobbled up to the pulpit and took a breath.  This first reading from Genesis 22 is one of the most challenging to understand and as a spiritual director, I have seen numerous retreatants struggle with the content in the context of a loving God.  God tested Abraham, I began. Thus begins the story of Abraham needing to trust God with everything beloved.

Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…and offer him as a burnt offering….Such a request is inconceivable.  Abraham obeys though. He builds an altar, lays the wood, binds his only beloved son, and takes up the knife to kill Isaac.  He passes the test and the angel of the Lord stays his hand, provides a ram for the sacrifice, and blesses him on the Lord’s behalf. These are hard images to accept.  Which of us would want to kill what we love?

I do not believe for a moment that the cancer that is slowly taking my life is a test from God.    I do think that God is using me in so many ways that I do not even know that God is using the disease for a purpose. I think of all the people I have met and been blessed by because of this cancer.  Equally, many have been inspired by my tenacity and faith. Abraham and Isaac went up that mountain together.  Did they have heavy hearts? Probably.  I am going up my mountain with a great cloud of witnesses singing me there. Is my heart sad some days?  Of course.  I have loved my wild and beautiful life more than I can ever express.  I am starting to see with eyes anew–how could I have lived in this place for one and a half years and never noticed until the other night how the moon smiles out my kitchen window?  I have watched sunset after sunset standing at my sink but as I turned out the lights and caught the Cheshire moon laughing at me, I was stopped in my tracks.  The other night friends and I went out to the symphony–Spanish music–and I was transported back to Barcelona with memories running like a slide show of my time there with my dear friend from Germany.  The first bite of spaghetti that a friend had dropped off sent me into ecstasy.  Who knew spaghetti could taste so amazing? I have tried to live with a grateful heart for decades but lately I am overwhelmed by all the mysteries here on this side of the veil.

I look forward to what awaits me on the other side and I do trust God with everything I hold dear.  This week, after really considering a conversation with my Circle of Support, I am slowly letting go of the worry I have for those who will remain here after me.  I see dimly how God is laying ground work that will allow for people to grieve and move beyond missing me.  My work is now about climbing my mountain and trusting what awaits me.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

What mountain must you climb?

What do you think about God testing you?

Prayer

You who gave your only Son know what it is like to give up what is most beloved.  You know how each story begins and ends.  You ask us to trust the plan.  I do.  Help me to climb the mountain with joy and sorrow in balance, knowing that you await me. Amen.

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When Bad Things Happen…

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In the Ignatian Lay Volunteer (ILV) group that I belong to we are reading God, You’re Breaking My Heart by Jesuit Brian Grogan.  It is not a comfortable read but it is timely.  The subtitle is What is God’s response to suffering and evil?  I find my soul weighted down with the sadness of what is happening in our world. This was how I went to the meeting the other night. Broken systems, shattered hearts, and destroyed lives — it all seems so senseless.

I facilitated the evening and as we progressed through the sharing, I felt myself being buoyed up by this group of faithful followers.  Earlier on someone mentioned this adage: When bad things happen, look for good people.  I had never heard that before but it resonated with me. We need to not let the darkness defeat us but rather focus on those who are creating change, standing up, and speaking out.  In daily life, we encounter people who are willing to be a balm for all wounds. This takes courage and can go unnoticed. We must not only look for these people, we must strive to be those people.

The chapter we were discussing that night used as an example Etty Hillesum, a Jewish woman, who wrote while in the hellish surroundings of a death camp: Despite everything, life is full of beauty and meaning. On a train to Auschwitz, she tossed out a postcard, later found by farmers with these words: We left the camp singing.  Such a profound depth of spirit!  Etty knew that pain and suffering co-exist with joy and beauty.  She somehow found a balance in order to discover that peace that surpasses understanding.  She found that she needed to safeguard that little piece of God that lives within each of us and allows us to move beyond the sorrow and anger to being healers.

By the end of the circle rounds, most of us had our hope restored as we talked about the gift of our own ministries and reflected upon the readings.  Tonight watching the news which announced the non-guilty verdict in the trial of a 15-year-old Indigenous girl who was murdered and dumped like garbage into the river here in my hometown, the sadness crept up again.  Look for the good people, I whispered to myself and there it was: the great aunt who had raised Tina was the voice of reason, asking for peace and not violence.  Despite, and probably because of, her own heartache, she sent a message requesting calm. I will be looking for good people in these hard days ahead as we look with shame upon our nation who has failed Indigenous people again.  We need people  who are willing to be a balm for the wounds.  Despite the tragedies that want to drag us down, life still has beauty. I for one want to leave my earthly tent singing when it is time for me to go Home, hoping that I have safeguarded that little piece of God within me and reached beyond despair to be a healer.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

What do you do with the sorrow that can be overwhelming in our world?

Think of an example where something bad has happened but someone good showed the way to beauty and joy.

Prayer

Balm-for-My-Heart, may I always seek the little pieces of God manifesting themselves in our world when bad things happen. Let us learn to co-exist with the sorrow and pain rather than allow it to defeat us. Strengthen our spirits in these troubling times and help us to be good people too. Amen.

 

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Still Learning Lessons

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Life holds so many lessons for a life-long learner. When my Circle of Support met this past week we discussed how I still am needing to draw better boundaries.   I do not know if I will master this prior to dying but I am trying to at least to improve and land in a place where I feel more comfortable than I have in the past.  In thinking about this I thought I would list some of the struggle points for me and then my friends and family could help me with them or understand what is going on for me. Here we go!

  1. Somehow I need to understand that my needs are important–as important as yours, and perhaps even more so right now.  This means I do not have the energy that I used to for reaching out and for always taking the time for things that I used to in the past.  I depend on you to find me either online through one of the three venues I have that will help you help me or by dropping an email to ask what I may need.   I cannot keep up the way I used to but I do try to read everything even if I do not respond.  I love phone calls, especially from my faraway friends who cannot see me. However, as my mom said today she is never sure when to call because she does not want to wake me. It is a great balancing act.
  2. I do reach out through social media to ask for specific needs.  If you read these, you will see exactly how to best pray or when I need tangible assistance such as a ride. Learning to receive is a huge learning curve for me. I am not always comfortable with letting everyone in to all parts of my life. Try to imagine someone doing your unmentionables in the laundry and you might understand how I feel.  As long as I am able, I would still like to do tasks that I can.  I am frustrated by people who want to take over, without my permission, certain things.  Helpful questions for me are May I do this for you? or How can I help you get that done? or simply Do you need help?  The assumptions otherwise are sometimes hurtful or annoying and yet I know that is not the intent of the person taking over the situation.
  3. Let people own their own emotions. I have long said this but I find it harder to let go of because of my own compassion and experience.  I know grief well.  I have walked with people in and through it. I have faced head-on my own roller coaster of emotions as well as facilitated workshops on grief which is why I have a sense of healthy and unhealthy grief patterns.  You cannot avoid it and I do not want you to.  When I was in the hospital, a friend of mine who had briefly stopped in, stood up to leave, and without looking at me, said, This sucks.  I checked in as to the meaning because while I was pretty sure she was talking about more than my concussion and broken ankle, I did not want to assume.  This cracked open a good conversation between us.   Honestly, I find the hard conversations the most rewarding. They are so much better than ignoring the elephant in the room.
  4. I know I have also said this before. I am so much more than this rare cancer and I do not always want to talk about it.  I know it seems like I have just contradicted myself here but I have not. Some days, I just prefer a distraction.  Tell me the story of the young girl calling President Trump out since the Florida School shooting if I have not heard about it.  Tell me what made you smile today.  Share your own painful life event with me.  Text me to say the sun is shining today and it is glorious.  Email me your favourite Scripture verse –there are so many stunning ones during Lent.
  5. My wise circle friends’ advice was that I need to focus on me and what brings me joy, peace and freedom. My needs are changing and I need to use my time prudently. This means hurting people who want to see me but who I can no longer expend energy seeing people who are more on the periphery of my life.  I am trying to create memories with my closer friends–many of you know who you are because I am in touch with ideas for outings or visits.  At this point in my life, living well means closing doors and tightening boundaries.  I cannot tell you how excruciatingly painful that is for me.  I also cannot emphasize how crucial it is for my health and sanity.  Life revolves around a daily phone call to my mom, perhaps one visit five out of seven days a week, medical appointments, focusing on the work that needs to be done before I die, and participating in something life-giving whenever possible. My world is shrinking and it needs to.

Those are some of the thoughts buzzing through my brain lately.  I also think I need to give over the wheel to Jesus more and more. With his grace, I will find peace within my heart to do what is best for me. I know not everyone will understand but I believe that those who love me will.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

How do you draw your boundaries?

What lesson do you need to learn to have a more life-giving focus?

Prayer

I am a temple of the Lord and need to learn to protect the entrance.  Sometimes this means turning away people I would normally have let in. Have mercy on me, Lord, as I continue to live and make my world more manageable. Grant me peace, joy and freedom.  Amen.

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Ash Valentine’s Day

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I am not fasting from chocolate this year.  I have eaten heart-shaped cookies today.  I believe I have given up a lot these past months and know that there is more to come. I do not like this deficiency model that I am operating out of. I prefer to work on something that will change me for the better for a longer period than 40 days.  My prayer for Lent will be Psalm 51: Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

I want to come closer to my Beloved this Lent and beyond.  I want to place all of my needs into Jesus’ Sacred Heart and experience the greatest Love that any of us can find. A friend of mine today mentioned that he thought the Sacred Heart was a good symbol for the melding of these two events. I loved this image.  Another friend sent me this Valentine over social media: Roses are red, Violets are blue, You are dust and unto dust you shall return.  That made me laugh.

Being single on Valentine’s Day can be depressing for some people.  Today I found such solace in the gifts I received from my earthly friends but it cannot compare to what my Beloved brings me.  Today at mass, I remembered that I am just dust made by the One who creates star-dust.  This One creates lavishly and uniquely.  Each soul is fashioned tenderly and carefully, created for a particular person during a specific time. Each of us is made by Love and meant to radiate that to the world during our time here. If we are blessed to recognize this gift in our lives, we can notice that we are never alone or unloved. We always have Someone who longs for us as no one else can. Even though we are made of dust, and to dust we shall return, we are also made of Love and to Love we will return.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

Who do you love most in your life?

What will you do for Lent this year?

Prayer

Create in me a pure heart, a single-hearted love.  Keep my eyes on you as you renew a steadfast spirit within. May I be completely yours, Soul-Maker, and radiate your Love into our world.  Amen.

 

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Praying for the Dying

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I do not know if I have photos from Lourdes.  On today’s Feast Day of Our Lady of Lourdes, we also celebrate the World Day of the Sick. I post this blurry photo from another Marian Shrine, taken by a local man who attached himself to me and became my personal tour guide as I walked along the paths in Fatima.  This was the spot that Mary was said to have appeared to the visionaries. Many healings happen in Lourdes and Fatima, as well as other sacred spaces around the world.

I often ponder about healing and cures.  Personally, I will never understand what happens.  We clearly hear in today’s Gospel of Mark that the leper courageously approaches Jesus and asks to be made clean. His request is granted and Jesus assures him that of course he wants to do this.  The leprosy immediately leaves the man and despite Jesus cautioning him to tell no one, the man cannot contain his amazement, going about the countryside, proclaiming his new freedom.  Others came to Jesus.  We do not know if he cured them all.  One would assume yes, but then why do people today who pray for a cure not receive the answer they wish?

I see much healing in my life since I have become sick.  I witness many miracles but I know others continue to pray for a cure.  I do not think that will happen in the traditional sense and it is not for lack of faith.  I tell folks not to stop praying for a miracle but I have seen such disappointment over the years from people who have chased a cure and not lived their lives.  Someone said to me recently that praying for a dying person was daunting.  I have so many people praying for me that I had not really considered this aspect.  How should we pray?  For what should we pray?  Good questions!  I can honestly answer the how: pray with compassion and love in your heart.  Pray fervently and with faith to move mountains.  Pray sincerely letting your heart break open.  Weeping and moaning count as prayer.

The what is harder.  Each person will have his or her own desires–both the person praying and the recipient.  If you are at a loss as to what to pray, perhaps ask the person what is needed at that moment.  I have a friend who does this regularly.  For me, the check-in on my part is revealing because sometimes I am surprised by what I ask for. For my praying friend, the clarity is helpful. I can give specifics of where I am at physically that day or I can ask for something I am struggling with emotionally. Strength, peace and courage are always a go-to in my situation I find. I spend time praying daily for people who are praying for me, asking God to grant their needs at that moment, whatever they may be.  As I have strangers praying for me, this seems like a good prayer. I find it helpful to pray in both generalized and specific ways when I can.

On this World Day of the Sick, let us remember in our prayers those who are sick and suffering, those who are taking their last breaths, those who love them, those who are estranged, and those who care for them.  Consistently, I have said that what I need most from people is prayer.  I maintain that is how I remain on earth.  At some point, I will need prayers for a peaceful passing and a happy death.  I know I can continue to count on those who pray for me to do so.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

What would a happy death look like to you?

How do you want people to pray for you?

Prayer

Great Physician, be with us who are sick, who need your merciful care.  Grant us patience, courage, joy, peace, and hope.  Give us our daily bread and let us be satisfied. Bless those who care for us and those who love us.  Mend broken relationships in order to heal our spirits as well as our bodies.  We thank you, Gracious God, for hearing us. Amen.

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