FEAR NOT…

Lagoon Cabarete

Last month, our youngest daughter, Beka, let me borrow a 30-day devotional I had given her for her 22nd birthday. It’s a small book of writings and prayers by St Teresa of Avila, with a bold, challenging title: Let Nothing Disturb You. I am touched that my daughter takes her faith seriously and loves to share with me the wisdom she has gleaned.  I am also drawn to the book’s title as I long to live a trusting, peaceful life—to be undisturbed and unafraid. Perhaps Sacred Scripture is filled with encouragements to “Be not afraid” because God knows we are at our best and most able to love and serve when we are unafraid.

I grew up in a serene farm setting in Central Illinois, but as my father’s alcoholism progressed, our home turned into a volatile and sometimes violent space. It was not peaceful. Fear was a very real and dominant force in my life throughout my childhood.  At college, lying in bed in my dorm room my first night away from home, I realized that it was the first time I had felt unafraid in a very long time!

That being said, fear runs deep in me, and even though now I feel safe, saved, redeemed, and in the process of transformation, at times this 65-year-old woman can still feel like a scaredy-cat.  It is my most vulnerable weakness and can keep me from experiencing and giving real agape love. A favorite read of mine is Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. It is an allegorical novel about a young girl named Much-Afraid who allows God’s love to transform her into a brave, radiant young woman. She allows the Chief Shepherd to take her to the heights of love, joy, and victory.  Her journey involves facing and standing up to her relatives Dismal Forebodings, Gloomy, and Spiteful.  I have read this little gem countless times, both in English and in Spanish. My two youngest daughters grew up on the children’s version. Our daughter, Rachael, used it for a book study in Spanish while we were living in the D.R. Wanting to be free of fear has been a deep desire of mine and a motivation to draw near to God’s safety and power. I want to be brave and I want my three daughters to be brave women.

Recently, I did a spiritual exercise where I was asked to choose twelve life events which have shaped me.  Twelve is a significant number in spiritual terms—the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve disciples, and the twelve steps of recovery programs. I started the exercise by reading Psalm 139: 1-18 and then listing my twelve events. I clearly saw God’s sustaining presence and persistent, loving care for me, especially in my most fear-filled experiences. So often I am afraid because I feel I will lose something I have or not get something I think I want. The more I meditate on God’s sustaining love and care for me, the more I can trust God with my future. That is the priceless gift of freedom God offers to each of us.

Isaiah 43:1-3 describes it well: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

The truth of my life is that I have not been overwhelmed nor consumed. My God has been with me. I need not fear.

So back to Teresa and the little devotional I have enjoyed spending my mornings with the past thirty days. Each day’s reading contains a thought to begin and another to end your day and one to ponder all through the day. Here are a few of my favorites…

“Patience gains all things.” I can be patient when I am unafraid and trusting God’s plan for me and for others.  My middle daughter, Rachael, reminded me recently that we do not know what obedience to God looks like in another. I want to honor others as they walk out their journey as I honor my own uniqueness in walking out mine. When I let God be the judge of others, I can remain undisturbed.

“It’s alright to feel helpless.”  It is good for me to know how much I need God, how dependent I really am on Him for everything. I can trust Him to care for me in big and little ways.

“God is willing to wait for me many a day, even many a year.” I take much comfort in knowing that the spiritual journey is for a lifetime. No need to hurry.  When my heart is not troubled, I can hear God more clearly and see the world and others through His compassionate and merciful eyes.

“Let me not try to fly before God has given me wings.”  Recovery programs talk about staying “right sized.” Being at peace with who you are in the moment and staying true to that “You.” Staying in the moment—today’s 24 hours—is a key to living without fear. Trusting that God knows best for you and not comparing yourself with another or wanting another’s gift.

These are just a few of the nuggets of truth that I have gathered this past month as I spend time with God.  I know that ultimately, only God can take away my fear and make me brave. I have heard it said that sooner or later we all rise or fall to the level of our friendships.  I want to tend well my friendship with my Creator.  That friendship will dictate the quality of my life and my level of trust and peace.

Last weekend we celebrated the graduations of two of our three daughters. Our youngest, Beka, received a B.S. in Exercise Science and our oldest, Blythe, received a PhD in Neuroscience. They passed through much fire and water (as Isaiah describes) to garner these degrees.  As our family celebrated, I looked at all four of our children with deep awe and gratitude. They are all brave.  And I heard God whisper to me, “Fear not, Cherry”. Once again, I sensed His sustaining presence and persistent loving care.

Beka and Blythe graduating

Good reads this past month—

Let Nothing Disturb You by Teresa of Avila

Love A Guide for Prayer by Jacqueline Syrup Bergan and Sister Marie Schwan

POWER, POWER, WHO’S GOT THE POWER?

 

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“Glory be to him whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine;” (Ephesians 3:20)

 

The first step of twelve step recovery programs reads as follows: “We admitted we were powerless over________(insert addictive behavior) and our lives had become unmanageable.”

These past few weeks, I have been blessed to work with a young woman struggling to get clean and sober and to stay that way.  I am once again reminded how fragile sobriety is. A gift of God’s grace and mercy.  This is also the time of year when I celebrate my sobriety anniversary.  God willing, April 6 will mark 30 years of continuous sobriety for me.  I stand amazed at this landmark, and I ponder how my life might be speaking to me through these current life experiences.

My newly sober friend is coming to see that, while she may be quite successful in many areas of her life, she is unable to manage her drinking.  She is powerless over the addiction. The obsession and the craving overtake her. In my case, while I no longer struggle with cravings for alcohol, I still battle with obsessive thinking toward the many people, places, and things in my life over which I am completely powerless.

“When we are powerless, let us be quiet and let God act.”

The first three steps in addiction recovery can be summarized as:

1) I can’t, 2) God can, 3) So I’ll let him! Or, as I’ve also heard it said, “God is, and I am not.”

A longtime favorite read of mine is THE RULE OF BENEDICT: A Spirituality for the 21st century by Joan Chittister, O.S.B.  The prologue counsels us: “What is not possible to us by nature, let us ask the Holy One to supply by the help of grace.”

Father Martin (You can find him on YouTube) suggests that God wants to be asked to help us.  He wants the alcoholic to acknowledge to Him, “You have what I don’t have, may I please have some?”

My life and times are in your hands, Lord.

These and many other wise words that I have heard and read over the years all point to a power shift from self-reliance to God-reliance. I am asked to trade my poisonous pride for God’s humility.  I accept the truth of my limitations and weaknesses with the hope that my loving and powerful God will do for me what I cannot do for myself. I learn to trust that God is in charge; it’s His plan I follow, not mine.  I can be open to His surprises and miracles. I have always been drawn to the humility of Mary’s words, “May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

I accept me as me and I let God be God.

My new friend in recovery accurately describes the process: “God doesn’t want me to ‘get it right’ or ‘get it together’ or be self-reliant or have a lot of willpower. He wants me to fall on my face and admit: “I can’t do it! Help me!!”

Every mass and many recovery meetings include a moment when we all hold hands and recite together the Lord’s Prayer. Linking arms in community, we acknowledge our willingness to let our Father God take us by the hand and lead us. We sense that we are united to each other and to God.  It can be a moment imbued with power.

“For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.'” (Isaiah 41:13)

 As we pray, we ask God to give us this day our daily bread. A brilliant and powerful strategy of the twelve-step recovery program is to only focus on a 24-hour time period—one day. To live in the present. Most of us feel we can do just about anything for one day. This beloved prayer affirms that God’s plan for us is that we live one day at a time asking Him to provide what we need for that day–His power. It is a simple program because God’s ways are simple. He is tender, yet powerful. He will provide us with two things we desperately need: a change of mentality and a new style of living.

The whole of the recovery program hinges on Step One’s honest admission of powerlessness. Steps One, Two, and Three form the basics of the program—the power shift.  A newcomer to recovery is advised to “stick to the basics”.  Often when someone is struggling in their recovery, it’s suggested that they go back to the basics. The truth is that we should always stick to the simple basics because it is in following the basics each 24 hours that we stay clean, sober, and mentally and emotionally sane. This is true whether you are new to recovery or getting ready to celebrate 30 years clean and sober.

I have learned so much about myself and about God as I have walked the road of recovery.  I can replace the lie(s) I have been believing with these truths:

  • Our weaknesses will take us to God IF we let them.
  • Telling the truth to myself and others releases me from the power that the addiction has over me.
  • Whatever the problem or situation, I need to get the focus off of me and onto God.
  • I have to reach for recovery and reach for God.
  • Day by day I simply “Do the next right thing.” Simple, yet full of power.

So, who has the power? God does.

I’ll end with a translation of the Lord’s prayer you may not have read before. May you be blessed by it today.

Palm treeAbba, let our lives honor your name

Let your home be with us

Let your ways be our ways

Let heaven and earth be as one

Give us today simply the bread of tomorrow

Forgive us our violences as fully

As we have forgiven others theirs.

Do not let us stumble; give us refuge from evil ways.

Yours, O God, is the place, the power and the wonder. 

Peace, now and forever. Amen.

 

YEARNING FOR LIFE*

“As a deer yearns for running streams, so I yearn for you, my God.” Psalm 42:1

Almost three decades ago, I was invited to my first silent retreat at a Benedictine monastery in Nauvoo, Illinois.  The nuns directing the retreat had chosen chapter 55 from the book of Isaiah as the theme for the weekend.  Throughout our time with them, we would read and meditate upon this piece of sacred Scripture.  The chapter begins with this invitation:

“Oh, come to the water all you who are thirsty… (Isaiah 55:1)

And continues with this instruction:

“Pay attention, come to me; listen, and you will live.” (Isaiah 55:3a)

And concludes with this promise:

“Yes, you will go out with joy and be led away in safety. Mountains and hills will break into joyful cries before you and all the trees of the country side clap their hands. Cypress will grow instead of thorns, myrtle instead of nettles. And this will be fame for Yahweh, an eternal monument never to be effaced.”          (Isaiah 55:12,13)

These verses invite us to live, show us how to live, and paint a vibrant picture of what that life can look like. The result is that we are transformed and God is glorified.

The years have not seemed to dull the vivid memories I have of that weekend. A cherished remembrance is the softly wrinkled face and twinkling eyes of an older nun who served coffee and tea at the end of the food line throughout the weekend.  She spoke not a word but her eyes, smile, and gentleness drew me in and made me long for more of what she had.  I now would describe that moment as a time when the Divine broke through to my everyday reality, beckoning me to come closer, to more deeply explore what it means to be a Christ follower.

Since that silent retreat, I have continued to pursue God and an authentic faith. I believe that God prompted me to open that door and my heart just a little bit.  As it says in Scripture, “Jesus replied: Anyone who loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make a home in him.”  (John 14:23)  I desire our loving God to make a home in me.

What is more important and precious to me is that God has continued to pursue me.  In so many unique ways.  He has sent me numerous people and experiences that reflect Him and draw me closer, into the mystery.  I have been blessed by the counsel of so many “wise ones”.  A gift that has been essential to my journey.  I have encountered wise ones in recovery and wise ones in the faith who are following Christ and model for me how to do the same. Who are the wise ones in your life?  Cherish them, listen and observe them, and take heed to follow their example.  Pray that God send you wise ones and then pay attention.  My wise ones have taught me much about God and much about myself.

Recently I read, “Nothing can compare to the drama of exploring my full potential as a human being”. ** Becoming more fully and more passionately myself so I can actively contribute to life and genuinely love others.  In my current season of life, I long to grow old with a sense of purpose. I believe that “time is always and forever an invitation to growth”. *

Striving to become all you can be is attractive.  Recovery programs are based on attraction rather than promotion.  So is Christianity.  Don’t tell me, rather show me. Does your life intrigue others? Does mine? I certainly desire that.

Since entering the decade of our 60’s, my husband and I have attended many funerals.  Some as a result of sudden deaths.  This certainly can take one’s breath away and cause one to pause and ponder. Many life lessons can be learned. One that I’m particularly drawn to is “Carpe Diem”—to seize the day, each day.   In a thoughtful book that I just finished reading, I was challenged to make a list – “Before I die, I want to_____________” * What a wonderful way to start this new year. I challenge you to make that list for yourself.

“Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, Lord.” St. Augustine—His words echo anew for me today.

As we enter the season of Lent, a time to pause and reflect, may we take these thoughts and questions to heart—may we spend ample time in the classroom of silence.

 

*How to Live—What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning, and Community by Judith Valente. (This post has been inspired by this beautiful book which I highly recommend reading.)

**Courage to Change—One Day at a Time in Al-Anon II

DON’T FIGHT YOUR LESSON

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I awoke the other morning with these six words clearly in my head—“It’s your lesson. Don’t fight it.” As I made my way to coffee and my morning spot, I felt a sense of peace come over me, knowing that God was in this, lovingly in charge. God is in our present waiting for us there.  Before I share more of my present moment, let me give a brief backdrop of my year up to this point.

At the dawn of each new year, I ask God for a word or a theme for the upcoming year. This year I felt God say, “Holiness”. I sensed that I had a longing for this but wasn’t sure what the word meant for me. Paying attention to what I had been reading gave me some clues. Here are some thoughts I have written in my journal so far this year. I write them as if God were talking to me.

Pay attention. Be grateful. Live aware.

Linger over your life. Ponder the precious things.

Be all I created you to be–that’s holiness.

And from Holy Scripture: “He [God] must grow greater, I must grow less.”  (John 3:30)

As I write today, Dave and I are back visiting the Dominican Republic. The past two years, our visits have been deeply nourishing to our souls. Before we came, I prayed that I would be open to what God would have for us this year and not come with my own expectations. I’m grateful that God prompted me to pray that way because the first few weeks of this visit have been quite different from past years.  Some family matters back home have required our attention so I’ve not been able to unplug the way I like to. And I have struggled with that a bit.

With this in mind I go back to those six words God gave to me the other morning: “It’s your lesson. Don’t fight it.”  Once God gave me the gentle reminder that I am to live out well the life He gives me day by day, I was able to sense His presence and strength, and to go forward even with some excitement toward what lies ahead.

I first asked myself, “Can I do it differently this time?”  When a familiar lesson comes back around, it is an opportunity to grow and be changed by the experience.  That is so hopeful. An occasion to dig deeper with God if I linger with God rather than fight life as it presents itself.

As I was pondering, praying, and paying attention to my life, I read the following:

“We should always be willing to face our shortcomings with humility, courage, and hope. When we admit we have big problems, we can start looking for big solutions. We are not here to solve problems; the problems are here to solve us. We do not do things and solve problems merely to get them out of the way so that we can get on with life. Doing things and solving problems are very much a part of life, and every moment of life is an opportunity to become a-better-version-of-yourself. But we need to be conscious of this truth in order to reap the harvest of the moment. In every situation in my life, in every problem, every difficulty, I know that if I allow the values and principles of the Gospel to guide me, it will turn out for the best. It will not always turn out as I wish, but I will be a better person for having lived the Gospel in that situation, and because of that, my future will be richer.” **

There is much to think about and reflect upon in these words. They help me to accept the reality of my life, day by day.  And they take me back to my theme for this year. I believe living this way is holy living. Living aware that there is always more going on than what meets the human eye. Attune to what is really Real. Remembering that God is in our present, waiting for us there. This type of holiness is attractive and contagious.  It intrigues others, allures them, and can even change them. As I change, my community changes. That’s how God works.

While I will relish my idle time here, grateful for its value to my life, I pray I can also sink into the inevitable problems of life, viewing them as a path to holiness.  Trusting that God delights in weakness that tries.

As I watch another gorgeous Dominican sunrise, I pray–

cabarete sunrise

Lord, please help me to walk in my lesson today—my path to holiness.

 

**Rediscover Catholicism—A Spiritual Guide to Living with Passion and Purpose by Matthew Kelly

OPENING MY HEART

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One of my favorite priests begins daily mass by encouraging us in a soft voice with a twinkle in his aging eyes, “Let us begin by opening our hearts to God…” Later, he invites us to “Lift up our hearts to the Lord.”  Since I began my journey to follow Christ, I have been intrigued by how often the word “heart” is found in the Scriptures. It is one of those words that I have been drawn to without fully understanding its meaning. It has seemed to me a weighty word, packed with significance.  Our heart is crucial to our physical life but equally vital to our emotional and spiritual well-being.

When I began a program of recovery in my mid-thirties, my first sponsor suggested that rather than relying solely on my brain, I might begin to exercise another organ, my heart.  They say that we stop growing emotionally when our addiction takes over.  If this is true, I began recovery with the emotions of a 16-year-old.  I had a lot of growing up to do.  I was trying to live my life with a heart that had been severely wounded—initially by others, then later by my own hand, choices, and decisions. You could say that I needed a heart transplant.

As I moved forward in recovery and began “growing along spiritual lines,” as the program suggests, I joined a women’s Bible Study.  One of the women, who later became a close friend, talked about “guarding your heart.”  Again, I wasn’t sure what that phrase actually meant, but it seemed a wise thing to do, and I wanted to know more.

I began reading passages like—

              “God, create in me a clean heart, renew within me a resolute spirit.” (Psalm 51:10) — I sure wanted that.

I found comfort in—

              “God is close to the brokenhearted, to those crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18) — I have come to believe that it is in my pain that God is closest to me, whether I realize it or not.

I found hope in—

               “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good… for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45) — This can be my future as God’s Spirit works in me.

And my favorite—

              “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) — Mary is also described as “pondering all these things in her heart.”  That is a beautiful picture of a wise woman—reflecting and going to God before acting, living a life of faithfulness to love and goodness.

Along the way, I have learned more about the heart—

*A wounded heart cannot see correctly, so when I’m hurting my perspective is not accurate.

*A hurt, resentful heart makes me ugly while a pure, clean, healthy, whole heart makes me beautiful in God’s eyes.

*We use the phrase “Don’t lose heart” to encourage someone not to give up or lose hope.

I will carry my heart with me my whole life, so it makes sense that taking care of it should be a high priority for me. As we begin 2019, let’s look at the condition of our hearts. Sit quietly and ask God to show you. Does someone come to mind? Does an old hurt bubble to the surface? God’s Spirit is so faithful to lead us in this endeavor. I was recently asked, “Are you willing to look at your dark side more than ever this year?”  I want to say, “Yes”.

These are just a few of God’s precious words in Scripture that speak to me and help me along the way—some of my favorites.  What are yours? I encourage you to write them down or maybe even do a word study on “heart.”

I want to live my life with a heart wide open, or wholeheartedly.  I don’t want to hold back.  How about you?

I’ll close with a prayer I recently read—

              “O God, sow your Word once more in our hearts today; till patiently the soil of our souls bring forth a rich harvest, so that all may find nourishment for body and spirit through the lives of your people.  Through Christ our Lord.  Amen.”

 

 

 

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THE PUZZLE OF ADDICTION— Wrestling with and agonizing over addiction

I have struggled with addiction and I have loved those struggling with addiction. I’ve wrestled with the Whys—Why can’t they stop? Why do they continue to hurt themselves? Why do/did I continue to hurt myself? My personal addictions include drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, food, men, work, and, the most insidious: obsessive thinking and wanting things my way.

My recovery journey began when I was 35. I am currently in my third decade of walking this path, which I now consider an inestimable gift from God. I have changed, been transformed, and I’ve witnessed others change. I’ve also watched others struggle, relapse, give in to the addiction and die, some by their own hand. We say in recovery meetings that we are “a high-risk group.” Through the years, I have tearfully asked many questions, trying to solve this puzzle of addiction. Today I ask fewer questions. I don’t have the answers, but I do have hope—for myself and for those I love.

“THINGS THAT ARE IMPOSSIBLE BY HUMAN RESOURCES, ARE POSSIBLE FOR GOD.” LUKE 18:27

Looking back, I see that at some point in this journey, I had the sense, the knowing, that the answer to how to be set free was a spiritual one: to be filled with faith so there would be no draw or appeal to fill myself with something lesser. But this would be a slow process.  As I surrendered to the twelve-step recovery program, sought God as best I could, and didn’t give up on myself, I changed.  Little by little.  The ties to those go-to behaviors started to loosen, to fall off, to melt away.  Over time.

So now, I don’t have a draw to most of those things—drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, food, or men, but I periodically struggle with work and obsessive thinking.  The ties are not so strong now, and I can more quickly recognize when I’ve veered off God’s best path for me.  If I am under stress, I can go to one of my self-medicators rather than go to God, but that reaction is pretty short-lived.  Because once you’ve experienced the real thing, the others pale in comparison.

I’ve read that all addictions are really our misplaced longing for God. Something to ponder–and to find hope in.  Now, I want God more than I want the substitutes–most of the time. I prefer to be bound only to the Divine. This is how I pray for those I love who are in the midst of this battle.  I remember that we do not stand still. We are either moving forward toward the light–the good, full life–or falling back into the darkness. But God is in the light and the dark.  There can be much meaning and value in suffering. Much to be discovered about God and about ourselves. Over time, I have become aware of my many limitations and how much I need help to live life to the full.  I can accept that fact and be at peace because I’m also aware of how much I am loved by a powerful God who is my best ally. My hope lies in His love and power at work in my life.

The twelve steps are based on the Christian faith which calls for complete surrender and patience with the long transformation process. It’s similar to a Midwest autumn season with the trees surrendering, letting go of their leaves and waiting for the new life that spring always brings.  In life, things sometimes fall apart before they come together. In recovery, we are invited to let go of the familiar with hope for the unknown future, which rests in our Creator’s hands.  I want to trust the infinite God more than the human finite self—mine or another’s.  God knows the way. When I get stuck, I can ask myself, “How free do you want to be?”  Today I want to thrive, not just survive. God makes that possible for all of us.

My journey has also taught me the importance of community.  The recovery program is called a “we program.” Our faith is also meant to be lived out together. When our hearts and minds are troubled, we need the clarity another can bring to us. We look to God and one another to become fully alive. We can give each other the gifts of encouragement, guidance, and, above all, hope.

As much as I would love to offer you a concrete, step-by-step solution to this puzzle, I cannot. I will leave you with the hope that the answers will come to you, God will come to you, if you stay open, honest, and willing to be changed. You can find your way and so can your loved ones.

“Always be in a state of expectancy, and see that you leave room for God to come in as He likes.”   Oswald Chambers

As always, I’d love to hear your comments or questions. Feel free to email me, too.