SIT. STILL. QUIETLY. ALONE.

Sitting still--high back chair

At the beginning of each new year, I pray for God to give me a word—a theme or focus for the upcoming year. This year I felt drawn to the word savor and particularly to its meaning: to take delight in. I began my year paying attention to all that I could delight in and then savoring each thing. However, of late I’ve realized that I have not been thinking of this word very often. So, I asked myself and God, “Can I still savor during this time of pandemic with all its pain, suffering, anguish, and uncertainty due to illness, death, unemployment, and isolation?” “Can I experience Easter joy this year?”  I felt the answer within me, “Yes, you can.” The scripture verse that came to mind was:

Be still!  And know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:11)

God is giving me a time with very few distractions and only a small amount of decisions to make. I have a slow, simple routine. I am in my home every day. I start each day with a leisurely prayer time and a good cup of coffee. I ask God to show me who He would have me reach out to that day. My husband and I attend daily mass online. My main outdoor activities are morning walks in my neighborhood and afternoon drives with my husband in our Mini-Cooper convertible. As the weather warms, I am able to savor times on my front porch and back deck drinking in the wonders of Springtime in Illinois.  I serve as a mentor and spiritual companion to some precious women here and in the Dominican Republic. I continue to do that online. I also attend recovery meetings via Zoom. I write. I enjoy Face Time conversations with my four children and my large, extended family. The sameness and simplicity of my routine give me much calm and very little stress. Since I can’t do much planning for the future, I find it easier to live one day at a time and to carpe diem (seize the day).  I know from experience that both of these practices result in a very full and rich life. Much to savor.

As this year unfolds, I have reflected on what it means to receive as that relates to savoring. God has always gifted me with a lot of energy and an optimistic spirit. So, I naturally lean towards being proactive and taking the initiative. There are times in life when this is appropriate and helpful. However, in spiritual and emotional matters, it is not beneficial. When I take the initiative or try to control, I don’t allow God or others to give to me. I miss out on the gift.

The eleventh step of the twelve-step recovery program states: “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.”  In short: sit still, quietly alone.  We have the opportunity to make this a part of our new daily routine.

Some are referring to this time of staying at home as imposed monasticism. Over the years, I have spent time with Catholic nuns in monasteries. I cherish those times filled with stillness and peace—God’s presence so real to me. During this current season, I notice the parallels with a monastic way of life. I sense God drawing me to take delight in His presence in all of His creation—His people and nature.  To allow God to gift me in many ways and to receive the gift of His love from Himself and from others.  I have the time to treasure and ponder many things. To go slower and deeper with life’s bigger questions. To explore myself and my world. And in this way, I am able to savor.

“As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

Two years ago, I started meeting with a Franciscan sister in her home, a stately monastery in all its splendor. As we talked, I sensed how fully present she was to me and to God. I could tell how much she enjoyed –took delight in—getting to know me.  It felt like she was thrilled at the fact that God had brought a new person into her life. Her attitude of gratitude and trusting surrender to God’s plan was apparent and attractive. That memory has stayed with me. I left with a strong desire to live like that, and to relate that way with the people that God puts in my life—to savor them, to take delight in them. As well as to be open to God putting people in my life who will savor and delight in me. I find that to live this way well requires a slower, unhurried pace. I need time to pay attention—to God, to my interior life, and to others.  So, this imposed monasticism offers me this time. I pray that I will give and receive love better as a result of sitting still and listening more.

These days of pandemic have much to teach us.  We have seen people at their best and at their worst. I remind myself that we have never been this way before. Therefore, I think it wise to be very gentle with ourselves and with others. Planet earth is hurting and we have an opportunity to look after one another as best as we can. Let God bring to mind those that need a loving touch. Receive the loving touches given to you as a gift from God.

When I spend time alone with God, I sense His immense compassion. I see how Jesus was never surprised by human weakness. Yet I am so often surprised by human weakness—in myself and in another. Jesus’ response to weakness was mercy and love.  I, on the other hand, can be quick to judge, be critical, and feel superior. When I sit quietly, God gently shows these things to me along with His mercy and forgiveness towards me. I see how He is guiding me and transforming me little by little, reminding me that I am still in the making. This gift of time is changing me. I want to be quick to give and receive forgiveness.

“If at times we can just be, just quietly sit in the sun of God’s love for us, if we can believe that the One who formed us in the first place is waiting to transform us in the embrace of love, then in what we are doing with our lives, God will increase and we will decrease in the best sense of the word.”  Elizabeth Meluch, OCD

We just celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday in the Catholic tradition. This year as I pondered Christ’s wounds on His hands, feet, and side, I was also struck by His wounded heart. His friends wounded Him in their human weakness. We do indeed have a God who understands our woundedness and helps us walk alongside others in their woundedness. God has insight into people’s hearts and people’s hurts. Jesus always meets people where they are and how they are.   I have often underestimated the power of simply being in God’s presence. Who we spend time with changes us, so this matters. I believe spending time with God in prayer and reflection will make me more like Him. His presence and love expressed in and through my life have the power to change lives around me.

As this season of pandemic continues, let’s remember that the life of a disciple has a very long apprenticeship but can yield a beautiful bounty—the mind and heart of Christ. I believe this all begins when we learn to sit still, quietly alone. And from that place, go out into the world with Christ’s peace, love, compassion, and forgiveness. That is a great gift to the world.

“The role of committed Christians is always to grow richer themselves so that they can richly give to others.”  The Rule of Benedict

LEARNING TO BE HOME — Let Us Walk Each Day in Love

Front door with spring wreathToday is Day 12 of our Self-Quarantine— Saturday, March 21 my husband and I found ourselves donning protective face masks and plastic gloves, and boarding an international flight in the Dominican Republic to return to our home in the States.  The DR had closed its borders as a safety measure against our current pandemic. We were fortunate to be among the first wave of visitors returning to their homelands, cutting short our winter stay on the island.

Our home state, Illinois, was one of the first states to require that their residents stay at home for the common good. Even though our two-week self- quarantine is coming to an end, we will still be staying at home. Many of us are learning to Be Home.

I am very fortunate to have many faith-filled friends and family in my life who are looking beyond the horror of this pandemic in search of the gifts it holds for each of us. I am grateful to be home with a husband who is like-minded in his spiritual beliefs, and who joins me in digging deep into our faith—in leaning into the One who is strong and wise. Lent has certainly taken on a deeper meaning this year. We are also having many virtual conversations with dear friends and family encouraging one another to look for the gifts, to recognize and honestly acknowledge our fears, our losses, and our sadness, and to pray for one another and the world.

As I wrestle with wanting to do more, I am filled with awe and gratitude toward all those who are sacrificing so much for their fellow citizens. All those on the frontline like the medical community and the dear souls who are coming forward to help. Those braving going out to work every day. Those who are sick. Those who are dying. The sacrifices that so many are making for the good of others. I am reminded that my small sacrifice can simply be doing as I’m told—staying home—making the most of that time, and loving well whomever God places in my path or on my heart each day. Not being able to visit my 98-year-old mother in Florida, or spend the Easter holidays with family, while very sad, is a small sacrifice compared to the sacrifices so many are making each day to keep me safe.

There are many powerful words that have been written these last few weeks. Rather than add more words, I’m going to share with you some of the words that have been most meaningful to me.

A ministry in my own community shared this blog post on how we can redeem this time:

https://www.themoriahfoundation.com/site/blog/post.php?permalink=redeem-the-time

My youngest brother did a Face Time interview with my youngest sister who lives in Italy. It paints a picture of our fellow world citizens and offers a reflection filled with hope:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWe78ujf6vw&feature=youtu.be

A current favorite podcast of mine, Abiding Together, did a special video podcast on fear:

https://www.staceysumereau.com/bna-5?utm_campaign=4e596a0e-896c-4bae-b5a9-cdf54c4de190&utm_source=so&utm_medium=mail_lp&cid=b39c04d1-cb4a-4ba6-97af-0c90335fda4f

A Chicago ministry that I follow, Transforming Community—Ruth Haley Barton—encourages us to look beyond:

https://transformingcenter.org/2020/03/that-the-works-of-god-might-be-revealed/

Her blog entry ends with the wise and timely poem written by Kitty Omeara :

“And the people stayed home. And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still. And listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced.
Some met their shadows.
And the people began to think differently.
And the people healed. And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.
And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.”

I pray this will be so.

So, if you are on the front lines of this battle with The Beast (as many are calling Covid-19), I salute you, I thank you, and I pray for you. If you are called, as I am, to be home, I encourage you to not waste this time. We may never pass this way again. Take this rest as a gift and allow God to transform you so you can help transform our world, little by little.

  For out of this personal rest comes an explosion of goodness, first in ourselves and our lives, and then we can take that out into the world. (Matthew Kelly-Best Lent Ever—February 26)

Spring flowers--Janice

Let’s hold on to the hope that spring always brings us: in today’s ever-changing world, Nature’s rhythms remain the same.

JOURNEYING TOWARD INTERIOR FREEDOM

Cabarete sunrise 2020Last month I wrote about my desire to exchange contempt for compassion.  I am so grateful to God for gifting me with that awareness.  He is giving me the time and space here in the Dominican Republic to allow Him to do what He still does—teach, heal, and perform miracles. God cultivates me in the stillness, but also in the messiness, and in the darkness. God has chosen a stunningly gorgeous location to show me some messy and dark places in my life. Yet He is doing so in such a slow and gentle way. When I feel gratitude and genuine sorrow rather than shame, I can be pretty confident that it’s God’s voice that I am hearing.

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.” Psalm 133:1

A topic that we are discussing in my Spiritual Direction course is Interior Freedom.  This is the type of freedom that allows one to truly love God’s way—with pure motives.  I know that I will never have completely pure motives, but I believe God wants to continue to heal me and grow me along these lines. I know that when I’m afraid, feeling guilty or obligated, or seeking another’s approval, I do not stay true to myself. I am not genuine in my love. I am not experiencing interior freedom.

During the season of Lent, we hear that God wants us to render our hearts to Him. God wants to free us—to take our hearts of stone and give us new hearts, hearts of flesh. This freedom allows us to be driven by our strengths and not by our weaknesses. Years ago, in the twelve-step recovery program, I heard God’s transformation process explained as God taking a scouring pad to my insides and gently yet persistently scrubbing away anything that gets in the way of God’s image shining forth.  My spiritual director recently asked me to visualize what that looks like for me now.  What comes to my imagination are the big aluminum pots that I have seen many Dominican women use to cook. I’ve always been drawn to how thoroughly they clean these pots after a meal. They tirelessly scour them with a brillo pad until they truly shine.  They leave them light, bright, and clear. Through the transformation process, God wants to give us lightness, brightness, and clarity.  God wants us to shine.  And He wants us to see everything and everyone in our lives with clarity.

“We encounter Christ in our relationships with others.” The Ignatian Adventure.

God has been lovingly showing me how I respond to people who are different from me—who hold different views, opinions, or see a situation differently than I do.  With a strong personality, I find that I do not stay true to myself. When I am living in fear, I’m not being my genuine self at that moment. After a period of time of not honoring myself in interactions with another, I become upset, unsettled, and I simply don’t want to be around that person. I believe this speaks to interior freedom—or lack of it. I recently read that we lack interior freedom because we have excessive attachments.  Taking that to prayer, I became aware of how I can be excessively attached to my idea of what something should look like or how someone should be. Interior freedom means letting go of my idea and accepting God’s lead.

My daughters Rachael and Beka recently illustrated for me a powerful example of interior freedom. They were able to share their genuine selves honestly with each other as they walked through their differences regarding a topic that mattered greatly to each of them. They lovingly allowed the other to share from the heart without judgement and to just be together in that process. They were even able to recognize and comfort each other in their distinct struggles with the situation. They trusted God that if they each stayed true to themselves, God would sort it out.  I looked on in awe, grateful to be a witness to such Holy Ground.  So of God—Good, True, and Beautiful.

I also experienced some sadness reflecting on how my relationships with family and close friends have not always gone like that. I long for relationships where we each can be honest with the other about how we are thinking and feeling at the time, with no pressure to be different or to change.  I sense that the ability to do this is tied to humility —to walking this earth the way Jesus did. Jesus was humble and kind, slow and gentle. He had a listening heart. I want this. In reflecting on the Gospels, I see how so often we as people can get it wrong, but Jesus always has a better way, a new idea.

I want to go to Jesus each morning to seek His counsel—open to His divine wisdom. Not pushing my way on anyone. Praying for poverty of spirit. Receptive to being shown where I need healing and change. Journeying towards interior freedom.  The tenth step of the twelve-step recovery program suggests: Continue to take personal inventory, and, when I am wrong, to promptly admit it. Was I resentful, selfish, dishonest, or afraid? Show me the harm that I may be doing to others—my blind spots.

This past month the reflections in The Rule of Benedict* have dealt with humility—how appropriate!! Here are two quotations that always move me deeply:

“Aware of our own meager virtues, conscious of our own massive failures despite all our great efforts, all our fine desires, we have in this degree of humility, this acceptance of ourselves, the chance to understand the failures of others. We have here the opportunity to become kind.” *

“The humble person handles the presence of the other with soft hands, a velvet heart, and an unveiled mind.” *

If both parties in a relationship are willing to do this kind of deep interior work, great strides can be made towards loving well. Loving as Christ loves. We all can rest in God’s caring hands as we make this journey. We can simply unfold ourselves and become—like flowers blooming. We become matured, ripened, and whole.

Our time here in the Dominican Republic always nourishes us and everything that is important to us. God seems to be saying to me of late, “Stay little today, Cherry.”  To live with less of me and more of God. To allow God to reorient my life so that I live moment by moment trusting in God’s goodness and greatness to lovingly care for my smallness and frailties. This is living with interior freedom.

“To remain little means to recognize one’s nothingness, to expect everything from God, and not to worry too much about one’s faults.” St Therese of Lisieux

All said and done, at the end of the day, can I answer “Yes” to the question, “Did I love well all those God brought my way today?” I hope to pray as Pope John XXIII used to pray—”I’m going to bed now, Lord. It’s all in your hands.”

I leave you with this passage which always brings me peace and gives me hope for myself and for those I love:

“I am quite confident that the One who began a good work in you will go on completing it until the Day of Jesus Christ comes.” Philippians 1:6

*The Rule of Benedict, A Spirituality for the 21st Century, Joan Chittister, O.S.B.

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EXCHANGING CONTEMPT FOR COMPASSION—What my God can do…

sunrise from balcony

My spiritual director recently asked me, “What is God’s essence to you?” I was taken aback by the question, but also intrigued. So I went to prayer, asking God to reveal the answer. We have been in the Dominican Republic for over three weeks now. When we arrived, January weather was upon us—lots of rain and high winds. The palm trees were waving to me, dancing with abandon. This seems to have passed, and I am now sensing a stillness in the air. Each morning as I come out to my balcony and greet the day, I notice how still the palm trees are. As I sink into the rhythm here, I also sense a stillness come upon me. I definitely feel that I encounter God in the silence and stillness. A new thought has been coming to me. Perhaps God’s essence is stillness?

In silence and stillness, my heart waits for you. (Psalm 62)

It seems that God not only reveals Himself to me in the stillness, but He uses stillness to reveal myself to me. To show me my essence and the condition of my heart. These winter stays in the Dominican Republic the past four years have been so healing for me. While I didn’t come with any expectations this year, I sense a greater openness to surrender to God, His ways, and His plan for me. I feel He has given me the desire, or the grace, to long to go deeper with Him, to allow Him to transform me more into the image of His son, Jesus.

In one of the Spiritual Direction classes that I am currently taking, we are following the life of Jesus from his birth to his death as told in the Gospels. Recently we have been looking at the concept Poverty of Spirit. This seems to me like an old term—one that I am drawn to understand more fully, or should I say, experience more fully.  I recently read in the Rule of Benedict, “…in the dark days of the spiritual life, when we have failed ourselves miserably, we must remember the God who walks with us on the journey to our best selves and cling without end to the God who fails us never.” I believe this speaks to Poverty of Spirit —a deep knowing of my fragile human state, and God’s desire that I come to Him in that Poverty, and completely depend on Him to show me the way. Simply put, I constantly ask Him, “God, what would you have me do or be in this situation, and would you give me the grace to act or be as you desire?”

So, all this is a backdrop to the title of this blog. As I’ve been enjoying the stillness of this place and the stillness within me, God is revealing more truth to me about myself.  Things that get in the way of me loving God and others well.  Things that keep me bound in fear rather than free in God’s grace. Often, God uses relationships to teach me these truths about Him and about me.  I have found that when I feel either hurt, misunderstood, or not held in high esteem, this can easily turn into contempt for another or self-contempt. Contempt— I don’t really like that word. When I first encountered it, I wasn’t sure of its meaning, but I am learning.

Contempt is a pattern of attitudes and behavior, often toward an individual or group, but sometimes towards an ideology, which has the characteristics of disgust and anger.

Treat-with-contempt is to consider someone or something or myself to be unworthy of respect or attention.

Treating others with disrespect, disdain, mockery, name-calling, aggressive humor, and sarcasm are examples of contemptuous behavior.

Years ago, I was in a ministry situation where I was upset with the leader of the organization and how I perceived that he treated others. I realize now that my anger had turned into contempt towards him. It filled my heart and showed itself in ways that I was unaware of.  At the time, God had given me a dear, wise, older woman who took the time to listen to my heart in the matter. After hearing my narrative of the situation, she replied that I needed to get that “venom” out of my system.  Venom was an accurate description of what filled my spirit at the time. My heart was very dark.  She then asked me a simple question, “Cherry, do you have any compassion for this man?” That stopped me cold. I knew that I did not. I hadn’t even considered, up until that point, that I should have compassion for him. Her insight began a long healing process in me.

Compassion literally means “to suffer together.” To show kindness, caring, and a willingness to help the other. 

This past year, I seem to have revisited the ugly emotion of contempt toward another. Feeling hurt, misunderstood, and not held in high esteem, contempt slithered its way into my spirit.  It subtly showed itself in sarcasm, disrespect, unkind humor, or a dismissive attitude. While these revelations are painful, I am grateful to God’s gracious Spirit for pricking my own spirit and revealing more of myself to me. I have prayed that God show me my blind spots, and God always answers that prayer.  God opens my eyes and I can see. As we are studying Poverty of Spirit, God has gently shown me my heart, and invited me to allow Him to exchange my contempt for His compassion—for all involved in the situation. A friend describes God’s interior work saying, “God is melting me.” It has felt like God “melts” my contempt and brings forth His compassion in me—through a day by day process.

Poverty of Spirit means letting go of my feelings and depending on God’s wisdom. My spiritual director suggested I spend time BEING with God, watching the ocean waves come in and out.  I can talk to God about my contempt or any other negative or troubling feelings, and allow Him to take them. Let those negative feelings roll out with the waves. As a new wave comes in, I can view it as God giving me His grace, His compassion, allowing me to see myself and the other more clearly. And to see how God is working in all this for the good of us all. God offers me freedom from the things that bind me—freedom to genuinely love God and others.  I was reminded of John 8:31-32—

“To the Jews who believed in him Jesus said: If you make my word your home you will indeed be my disciples; you will come to know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

When I’m living free in God’s kingdom, I can truly live. When our oldest son started his freshman year in college, I remember him sharing with me, “Mom, I love life. I want to take a great big bite out of it.”  His words describe the essence of my word for this year—savor.  I, too, want to take a great big bite out of life, to savor it.

Over the years, I am coming to deeply believe that I must depend on God for all the things that really matter in life.  Those are usually things of the heart— relationships. At my age, I have come to know through experience God’s transforming power in my life and in the lives of others. I want to continue to be open to that power all the rest of my days. I believe that God wants to bring out the best in me and in all my relationships. This belief gives me hope and is something for which I’m willing to fight.  I am open to do the hard work of cooperating with God in this transformation. This usually means doing things that make me uncomfortable or may cause me fear and anxiety. Time and time again, I find that freedom awaits me on the other side. Poverty of Spirit, a complete dependence on God, can indeed melt contempt and bring forth compassion.

I recently read Psalm 92 and wrote in my journal: “I want to flourish like the palm trees. To flourish in your courts, O God. To still bring forth fruit in my old age, and be ever full of sap and green.”

I’ll end will a simple prayer that always moves me deeply.

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that I am.

Be still and know.

Be still.

Be.

sunrise

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

el balcon

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

image1 (2)

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.