Trauma and Drama

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Life has been, as I have said before, the best of times and the worst of times recently. Trauma and drama seem to have played a major part in trying to suck the life out of me.  They have wrestled me to the ground, pinned me down, and surprisingly, I have risen again and again, refusing to give in to the downward spiral.  That does not mean events have not taken their toll on me.  They have and I need to give those ordeals their due diligence but that is it–no more and no less.  I instead choose to honour my faith, integrate hope, and believe in goodness.

Even Jesus had to deal with the slings and arrows of his day as clearly illustrated in today’s Gospel from Matthew 22 where the Pharisees are still playing games with him. Jesus fully aware of their malice calls them on it.  He chooses not to join the inevitable spin of the merry-go-round.  Sometimes though, the forces at work for the rest of us, do not make it so easy to stay off the playground.

Today I was pondering how this whole cancer adventure began as urgent and upheaval. My files were marked with big red letters. I breezed through tests that typically required months of waiting. I saw half a dozen specialists. I was told that I might not survive at any point of the treatment.  I am grateful and always have been for the expedition of my case.  Only today, when I was looking back over trauma and drama issues did I back up far enough to include this in the resilience and recovery process. I need healing from all the anxiety that began even then.

More recently, I have to look at what happened even with my father’s death.  I have incredible anger at the health care system who failed him–the overworked doctors who wanted to send him home without figuring out what had happened.  The cold, defensive attitude that the one physician maintained while treating my dad.  The lack of communication between staff and family was in itself traumatizing.  This is not to say that Dad did not have some excellent care at times but I certainly could see that even the staff was experiencing feelings of helplessness.  I watched my father for 24 long minutes as the team tried to stop a tonic-clonic seizure.  By minute 18, tears were streaming down my face.  Days later, before I made the decision to go on my vacation, I saw the light leave him and I knew that he would not survive.  I did not know how long he would linger but I knew that he had decided that staying here on earth was no longer an option.  Our eyes met at that moment and I wondered if he knew that I knew.

Death and illness has the potential to break families apart.  Sometimes they heal; oftentimes the relationships are much different.  At this point in my life, I have tried to do what I can to fix the speed of the merry-go-round and as much as possible to stay off of it.  Dad was in many ways the rock that would not have let certain spin tactics whirl out of control.  Without him, the power imbalance has caused some challenges.  I guess the reality of dying is that I do not need to claim a new role nor do I even want one.  My desire is to keep living and acting with as much integrity as possible.  As Jesus says in the Gospel: Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.  I want to draw these distinctions in the coming months.

Of the traumas that have occurred over the summer are a series of death, not just that of my father.  Oftentimes, people will say to someone who is dying that they could get hit by a bus first.  This is hardly helpful and I am among those who do not appreciate my situation being minimized.  However, I must admit that a number of people have died unexpectedly over these last few months which does emphasize the fact that we should all be living fully and not wasting a moment of this precious gift of life we are given. This is at the root of why I keep rising, despite being knocked down.

At a recent family wedding, a tragedy was averted.  The day had gone remarkably well–the sun had even peeked out during the outdoor ceremony to smile down on the festivities.  Later while on the dance floor with my cousins, we could see a situation transpiring at one of the tables that seemed odd.  One of the young men in the bridal party ended up almost dying–well, technically, he did not have a heartbeat and was not breathing.  CPR was administered and a pulse was found.  I have not been updated completely about the situation but a report showed that he had a death-inducing blood alcohol level of .45.  I have thought of him often since that day, wondering if he knows exactly how fortunate he was that someone could save him so quickly and curious if anything might change in his life.  As I stood there watching the scene unfold a few feet away,  all I could think of was a dear friend, widowed two months before when her husband also passed away at a wedding of a heart attack. In the blinking of an eye, her childhood sweetheart was gone. Two very different endings make me wonder if the survivor will take away a valuable life lesson.

Trauma and drama require much peace and grace.  I am often amazed at how much resilience I am given.  The support network I have is huge and strong.  Not everyone is as blessed in this regard and I do not ever want to take for granted that I am a bit of an anomaly.  Some days I wonder why I do not lay in bed for days in a fetal position, covers over my head, blocking out the light of day.  I realize that deep within me I hear the Eternal music that allows me to get up and dance in the kitchen in the morning, despite everything that has happened and will happen.  If I am to give to God that which belongs to God, then I must start with my very self and all that entails.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

Are there traumas in your life that linger and still cause you to be unfree?

What lessons in life have taught you about resilience?

Prayer

God of All of Our Lives, you embrace our pain and our joy.  You ask us to give to you what is yours.  The reality is that it is all yours. I relinquish it to your care and mercy, knowing that you will always make the most loving decision, whether I understand it or like it.  You have the complete vision.  May I trust that. Amen.

 

 

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Hoping Against Hope

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All around us we can learn a lesson from this glorious season if we but keep our eyes open.  The trees are dressed in their most majestic robes, evoking much appreciation from those who watch green become gold and red.  Then as if they know on some deep level, that this is simply one stage of their life, the branches surrender their grandeur and open themselves to barrenness.  They stand at their most simple–the shell that supports every moment and aspect of their being. What does it take to learn this lesson as a human?

In today’s First Reading from Romans 4 Abraham’s faith required him to hope against hope that what was promised him by God would indeed unfold as it should.  I wonder how many times he rested on grace and let all that hindered him drop to the ground in splendor. As I begin to feel more myself, I have been aware that much will be required of me in the months ahead.  The magnificence of the adventure I have been on will take on a different stamina,  a new humility, and a deeper faith. The surrender of many dreams and hopes has occurred over these past two and a half years.  Each letting go has been different–some much easier than others–but I have managed to get to open hands.  Now, looking at the exposed trunk to the elements, I know that the trees have much to teach me about grace and peace.  To stand in simplicity and to know that each season has a gift is a blessing. May my spirit embrace all that is to come, hoping against hope that God who is ever faithful will bring the ones that are chosen out with joy and singing.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

What can this season teach you about hope?

How can you stand vulnerable and exposed to the elements?

Prayer

Maker of All Things Beautiful, grant that we may rest on your ever-sufficient grace as we face the changes in our life.  Help us to see that all around us are signs of  your great love and mercy.  Amen.

 

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More Value

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A friend of mine calls me Sparrow Suzanne.  The moniker brings a huge smile to my face so when I read the Gospel today that grin appeared as I sent her a silent blessing over the miles.  God who knows every creature from a small bird to the large whale cares for each one of us. This is the reminder today from Luke 12:

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies?  Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Some days on this wild adventure of mine, I feel like the smallest of all birds, gently cradled in the palm of my Beloved. I can perch there for hours and find my voice to sing praises. These past couple of weeks, I have been less able to light on the finger of God and utter a chirp. In my distraction with the side effects of the medications, I have faltered and flitted here and there, raging against the illness, instead of seeking the One who assures me I am not forgotten.

I ponder this concept that God might know the exact number of hairs on my head.  I try not to take it so literally and instead believe that God knows every cell in my body and every day I have been given. I must not give into fear.  Whatever God desires is for the greater good.  My job perhaps is to simply rest, trust, and praise.  Sparrows are perhaps better than humans at doing this.   I think I am going to practice being more like a sparrow for a few days.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

Do you believe that God has not forgotten you?

What would it look like for you to practice being a sparrow for a few days?

Prayer

Sparrow-Watcher, thank you for keeping your eye on me.  May I always know your love and trust it with all of my heart.  Amen.

 

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Nunc Dimitis

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I have interesting conversations with my social worker.  I never quite know where they will go.  When I started seeing him after being diagnosed with cancer,  I came prepared with topics.  Now we tend to free flow a bit more, although I usually do meander to my head to pull a bit of an agenda together.  Some days though, I cannot predict where we will end up.  In the most recent visit, I received a precious gift that I have been turning over and over, marveling at what it all means.

We were talking about how the medications I had started three weeks before had given me sort of an out-of-body experience.  I disliked how disconnected from myself I was.  I have not felt present to myself, others or God in ways that I long to be.  That led us to talk about my prayer time.  I finally got around to setting up a prayer corner again in my home.  I missed having one. I erected a small, altar-like table in my bedroom and pulled out my prayer stool that I carried home from Taize, France decades ago.  I placed some meaningful objects on the table–a candle, my striped purple heart stone from the Rock, a cross I bought in South Africa, some prayer cards, etc. When I kneel before it, I find peace.   I have had a strong longing to rest in the quiet with my Beloved.

My social worker asked what happened in that silence for me.  Instead of sharing a moment from here, I mentioned something that happened while I was on vacation.  I had gone to early mass by myself on the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi who is a favourite saint. As I sat in the silence of the church afterwards, I closed my eyes and listened.  I remembered how silent God was as I sat in the Cathedral of St. Clare in Assisi before the San Damiano cross where I had prayed for over an hour. This time though God had a surprising message for me: you are on your way to Jerusalem.  My eyes flew open and I held those words for a moment.  At first I was scared and then I realized that there was a joy in that phrase.  It was not you are on your way to Calvary.  I was on my way to Jerusalem which meant a triumphant entry into a new part of this adventure. I am not sure exactly what that means but it felt hopeful, despite the fact that Jerusalem is where it all changes for Jesus.

As my social worker and I talked, I confessed that I am ready to go.  I have not thought much about the end stages of my life yet and what suffering may come, but I do know that I am ready to see my Beloved.  I long for that day more than I can articulate but will take each moment here as I am able with the grace afforded me. My belief is that I have seen the beauty of Heaven on this side and I know what awaits me only dimly but I feel freedom because I know I will be with the Creator.

My social worker shared how in a dream once he was reminded of the words of Simeon’s song or the Nunc Dimitis (Latin for now you dismiss) and how it seemed to relate to what I was saying. The aged Simeon wandered the temple and when he saw the Holy Family, he knew that freedom in a tangible way. He had seen his Messiah and he was ready to go in peace now.  I can depart in peace, too, knowing I have seen my Saviour.  My eyes filled with tears at his words and I hold them now ever so gently. These are the moments I long to have in front of my prayer space in the months ahead.  May I use this prayer time well each day to soak in the Divine Presence.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

How much time per day do you spend in quiet reflection?

What would it mean for you to be dismissed in peace?

Prayer

Holy One, dismiss us in peace but allow or eyes to be wide open to witness you here first. Amen.

 

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Those Invited

 

IMG_0380.JPGThis week was book ended by weddings, one away and one local. The first one was for my cousin’s oldest daughter, a young 20-something-year-old, starting her life with her best friend.  Last night’s was a friend, marrying for the first time in her fifth decade, the man who she has loved for many years but who has stood by her these past three years after receiving her diagnosis of cancer at around the same time as mine.  Each couple has taken a leap of faith into the unknown.  Both weddings were joyous occasions and unlike the Gospel of the day, those invited came with enthusiasm and joy.  The King in the Gospel says that those invited were not worthy and tells his slaves to go gather people from the streets to come instead. Gosh, what an ordeal!  I cannot imagine the stress for the host.

At each wedding, the guests had great fun. The brides in particular were a delight to watch as they danced and laughed with friends.  The dance floors were full and the celebrations seemed jubilant.  What happens then at the Gospel wedding?  Why are people not into the festivities?  Why do the guests not want to come? Why does the host prepare such an extravagant affair only to be rebuffed? We are told that those invited make light of it and abuse the slaves who extend the offer.  Further, a stranger appears, dressed inappropriately and is thrown into the darkness by the King.  This is a harsh story.

God offers us so much and we are unaware of the blessings that we are to receive many days.  We make light of them, turn away, get distracted, show up in the wrong clothes so to speak, and do horrible things to one another.  I have been there.  Tonight at mass, I felt a great elation at being in my church community.  I truly felt like I was home.  Several years ago, struggling with what was going on in the parish, that was not the case.  About ten minutes after feeling this way, I had a moment of creaturehood, as St. Ignatius would call it–of knowing my sin and wondering why God would bless me anyway.  I did not see it coming.  All I know is that my eyes filled with tears and the love of God descended upon me in an unexpected way.  Maybe that is what the wedding feast is supposed to be like–an understanding that God has blessed us way beyond our dreams and hopes and that we have done nothing that has merited this generosity.

As these two couples begin a life together in a new way, may they know the mercy of God through the most challenging moments of their marriages and the love of God during the grace-filled moments. May they also be supported by those who were invited. May those of us who are invited by God to the great wonderful banquet of life keep our eyes open for the daily feasts that are set out for us and never be distracted.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

What was the last wedding you were at like?

What distracts you from celebrating the feast to which you are invited?

Prayer

Host with the Most, why do we not come running at your invitation?  What prevents us from being joyfilled and honoured to receive your summons to come? Change our hearts so that they may be open to all the blessings you want us to receive.  May our daily bread be enough and yet, when you lavish us with fatted calves, may we rejoice at this mystery too.   Amen.

 

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Jonah’s Pity Party

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Jonah’s grumpy attitude is resonating with me today.  I am not as far gone as he was, sitting outside the city of Nineveh , angry, displeased and ready to die.  I am starting to feel some side effects from these medications that I am on and have been aware of it for a week or so now. Last night I wanted to crawl out of my body and leave it at the curb for awhile.  Whatever is going on, my joy is being sucked dry at the moment and I am irritable.  I agree with Jonah that God is gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  I am sure there is a plan in all of this and I will be ok but right now the present moment sucks a bit.  Do not panic.  I will find my centre again and move beyond this but I am searching for the lesson that is being held out too.  Most of us do not want to stay in the hard places to figure the challenge out but I think there is great value in doing so.

God allowed a bush to grow up over Jonah to give shade to and to comfort him.  Jonah was happy about this until the next day when a worm destroyed the bush. A wind arose and the sun beat down on him until he almost fainted. Now Jonah was angry again, angry enough to die, he says. God is long-suffering with us.  We have all these expectations of the entitlements of being a child of the Divine.  I have been remarkably well in so many ways with my disease but the medications have caused some complications.  Like the bush, initially, they were helpful.  My energy has been good and my thoughts were clearer. However, they have actually also increased my discomfort on many levels, waking me up on occasion in the middle of the night in significant pain, destroyed my taste buds, bloated me to the point that I think at any moment an alien is going to come flying out of my stomach, and now have me feeling off emotionally.  I love the renewed energy but I hate feeling this discombobulated.  Go ahead, God, kill the tree. Show me my heart and inner stirrings of soul. Jonah and I are not so different.

When life is good, giving praise is easy.  The harder moments are the true testimony to our relationship with the Trinity.  If, as the Principle and Foundation states, we are created to praise, honour and serve God, why do I need to be well and happy to do that? One of the golden conversations that I had on vacation was walking along one of my favourite beaches with a soul sister, trying to extract this very concept of praise even when life’s circumstances are far from praiseworthy.  What does it mean to praise God in all things? On the second night of waking up in severe pain, I thought I would test out the possibilities.  After a few breathes, I uttered simple words of thanks and glory to the Holy.  I fell fast asleep within minutes, unlike the night before. I am feeling miserably sorry for myself, but want to dig around to see if this praise puzzle is a strategy that will help in the long run.  The hardest part of this adventure is coming, as much as we all want to deny it. I may choose to quit these drugs when I see the oncologist next week but at some point, I will be entering a phase where medications are not going to be an option.  I have to humble myself and depend upon my Maker for all things.  Each decision will be a new way to live out the Principle and Foundation.  How will I love, honour, and serve in different ways? What does it mean to not fully know the plans that God has or understand that the ways of God are not easily comprehensible by mere humans?

This is an act of trust by the creatures.  Jonah, grumbling, full of pity, frustrated with the Creator, and giving up on life is not who I desire to be.  I want to be the person who knows that my situation is in good hands because they are God’s hands holding me gently, even if I do not fathom what is happening, even when I want to peel myself out of my skin for a bit, even when my joy seems to disappear momentarily, and especially when I do not know where else to go for comfort and assistance.  The path ahead of me will have lots more moments of yucky unpleasantness.  I will need to dig deep into the reserves of grace God is bestowing upon me and to learn to yoke myself firmly there.  God is concerned about me as much as any individual in Nineveh. Of that, I am certain.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

Where do you ground yourself when life is challenging?

Can you accept that even as a Christian we are not promised an easy go?

Prayer

Creator, you are in control even if we cannot comprehend exactly what the plan is.  Increase our trust in you.  Help us to sing praises rather than sulk. Let us know that our joy is not tied to our circumstances but something far beyond what is visible and even known.  May we submit to you so that we may lovingly serve you in all situations.  Amen.

 

 

 

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Sadness of the Heart

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Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

This is the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi  whose feast day we celebrate today. Given the world events, it seems like a good calling for each of us. The massacre that happened in the United States has shocked the hearts of people once again. Today’s readings also discuss the sadness in the world. The first reading from Nehemiah 2  uses the phrase, this can only be sadness of the heart. Nehemiah  has never been so sad in the presence of the king before. In Psalm 137,  we hear the story of those who sat by the rivers of Babylon and wept as they remembered Zion. It is hard to sing the Lord’s song some days. In the Gospel reading from Luke, Jesus says that the Son of Man  has nowhere to lay his head but he invites people still to follow him. Each one comes up with an excuse but Jesus reminds them that they need to plough ahead to reach the kingdom of God.

How do we manage in these dark times? All seems folly. Hope dangles by a thin thread.  Natural disasters have decimated small communities and left others still standing. Black lives still don’t seem to matter unless they are the focus of fear. White privilege makes it hard to move forward with compassion and mercy to to lack of understanding.  We need the words of St. Francis today so that where there is hatred, we will sow love,  where there is despair, hope, and where there is sadness ever joy.  This is part of ploughing full speed ahead in order to reach the kingdom of God. We cannot turn back. We cannot be distracted by rhetoric that confuses and disturbs us. We need to hold fast to Gospel principles.  We need to seek forgiveness and understanding.

Francis was a prayerful man who has something to teach us.  We must be a source of faith, planters of hope, illuminators of the darkness, and joyful ministers whenever possible,  especially during times when all seems lost. There is beauty in this world beyond all of our imaginings. Goodness runs deep in the hearts of most people.  Hope stands the best chance with us as collaborators. Hold fast, my friends. Love will have the final word.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

What in the world is causing your despair today?  Can you bring hope to the situation?

What gospel principles buoy you up?

Prayer

Holy One, crying in the streets, may we bring you hope, strength, and courage. You are the One crucified again,  slain by your own creation. Steady our hand on the plough and let us move towards the Kingdom. There is much work yet to be done. Amen

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