TELL ME…WHO IS GOD FOR YOU?

Beka-lake view

It’s been over a year since I made the decision to start sharing my writing again.  I sensed God leading me to write as part of my “what’s next” for the moment. Since that time and by God’s grace, I have published a blog post each month which was a personal goal.  I’ve discovered that I enjoy the writing experience—sitting down with my laptop and an iced coffee either at home at my desk or at a favorite coffeehouse. I’ve also been surprised and encouraged by all the connections I’ve made.  I love that I have people in different parts of the world reading my blog—a sweet little community.  This feeds my soul and my affinity for international connections.   My writing has been a sweet surprise from God—a gift of His grace and goodness to me during this new season of my life.

Since returning to the States from the Dominican Republic, I’ve also been drawn to consider getting more training to become certified as a spiritual director.  I had personally experienced the value of spiritual direction before moving out of the country, and I was able to find a new spiritual director when we returned. We meet monthly at a Franciscan monastery.  She helps me discern God’s movement in my life and the reality of God’s grace at work. Our times together are always an oasis in my day-to-day.

There are many definitions of spiritual direction. I especially like this one.

“The whole purpose of spiritual direction is to penetrate beneath the surface of a [person’s] life, to get behind the façade of conventional gestures and attitudes which he presents to the world, and to bring out his inner spiritual freedom, his inmost truth, which is what we call the likeness of Christ in his soul.”
—Thomas Merton

So, after much prayer, guidance, and research, this month I begin the first phase of a Spiritual Direction training program. For the next six months, I will be participating in a Retreat in Daily Living, which will follow the spiritual exercises of Saint Ignatius. For my recovery friends, my experience with the personal inventory taken in steps 4 and 10 should be good preparation for what Ignatius requires in this retreat. Simply put, it will be a guided time of reflection through personal prayer and journaling along with weekly meetings with other participants and the program director.

One of the books we will be using describes the exercises as “an adventure, not simply of the geographic kind but one leading to the most important destination of all: to the heart of God, which fills the hearts of all people. 1 When I first read this, I had one of those dear moments when I feel a God touch. God’s love for me incarnated in my here and now. God knows that I have always loved an adventure. In fact, since returning to the States, I have frequently asked my husband, “What do you think will be our next adventure?” As I was reading my new material, I felt God gently and lovingly speak to me, “This is it.”

I’m told that we will begin this adventure with the question, “Tell me, who is God for you?”  I think that is a great place to start and quite a lot to ponder.

During the upcoming months, I plan to continue to write this monthly blog, but it may take on a different appearance as I go on this adventure. Time will tell.

For this month, I will leave you to reflect on the question, and I will do the same. Maybe we can simply and gently ask ourselves the question each day, and set aside some time to listen to what our hearts say to us. I believe that God will be faithful to answer the question for each of us. On my morning walk today, I asked the question and I heard, “I am always by your side, your constant companion helping you to see sparks of the Divine in all people and all things.”

“Tell me, who is God for you?”  I would love to hear some of your responses.

“Then he (Jesus) said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said in reply, “The Christ of God.” (Luke 9:20)

I recently came across this bookmark which we used in our first women’s event in the Dominican Republic. It was meant to spark conversation about who God was for each woman.  I think it will make the perfect bookmark for my new textbook.  And it may help us answer the question.

Names of God bookmark

1 The Ignatian Adventure: Experiencing the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius in Daily Life by Kevin O’Brien, SJ

I SERVE AT THE PLEASURE…

front porch

Our front porch

We are saying farewell to the last month of summer.  Everything is in full bloom.  I marvel at the flower baskets on my front porch. In May, I saw them only as small plants with potential. Now they are overflowing with blooms. So full of life.  Our back patio is the same scenario, bursting with color.  It makes me think of a wall hanging in our guest bathroom that reads, Live Life in Full Bloom. A worthy goal.  When we were moving back to the States three years ago, I told a friend that we would be living in Bloomington. She replied, “Well, you can bloom in Bloomington.” I liked the sound of that.

For the first time in my motherhood career, I don’t have a child going back to school. Thankfully, all four of our children have graduated and are employed.  So, instead of the usual back to school preparations, I have been given the gift of time to myself. Time to experience the awe and wonder of today. To linger over these last days of summer. To enjoy being in my home. Sitting on my front porch. Meeting with friends there. Going on neighborhood walks. I do some of my best thinking and praying while walking. It helps me discipline myself to pay attention, to be here in the moment, open to the surprises that an unplanned day may hold.

I confess that my husband and I spend some of our evenings watching a Netflix series.  This summer we finished a series about the New York City police department.  An often-used phrase was I serve at the pleasure (of the police commissioner). The phrase is also used by a subordinate when speaking to a government official such as the mayor or the president.  It means that I will do as you wish.  I defer to your plans. In one of my recent morning walks, the phrase popped into my mind and I thought, “Well, I serve at the pleasure of the Lord.” At least, that is my desire.  To start each day with, Lord God, it is YOU that I serve. To return to that phrase as life unfolds throughout my day.

So, what does it mean to serve at the pleasure? Maybe it starts with being content with who God has designed me to be. Accepting where I am in the transformative process of life.   To say and believe:  I am enough. This is enough. God is enough. Holding on to the hope that I will continue to bloom and so will those whom I love. Contentment opens us to surrender.

Surrendering comes easier when I can trust who I am serving. I am at a season of life where I can reflect back on many years of walking this journey of faith.  I can recall numerous experiences of God’s loving care, protection, and faithfulness.  I see how God’s way has always been best for me.  And I see God’s mercy and grace when I have chosen to go my own way. I can trust my God. Trust is a key ingredient to surrender.

I’ve always been captivated by the Biblical account of young Mary’s words to the angel Gabriel when she was given God’s plan for her life and for the world:  “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1: 38).  Mary’s heart was profoundly humble. She was not full of herself, not self-protective, not cynical. She did not let fear of the unknown stop her from an action that would lead to love. She was therefore able to completely surrender herself in love, to Love. She would serve at the pleasure. Humility is also a key ingredient to surrender.

So, as we turn the page and enter a new season, may we do so with contentment, trust, and humility. Let’s think about what serving at the pleasure looks like in each of our lives. And encourage one another to do so. This will look different in each life but I believe there will be a common thread among us. I believe that when we serve at the pleasure, we can truly live our life in full bloom.

Back patio

Our back patio

THERE IS NO PLACE LIKE HOME

Beka's sunrise in our neighborhood

Many of us fondly remember the image of a young farm girl, clicking the heels of her dazzling, ruby red slippers and longingly chanting, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home…” Her tale is one of youth’s innocence and ignorance transported to a faraway magical place.  While protected and guided by a loving force for good, she journeys into unknown territory. Through facing many obstacles and hardships, she gains wisdom and truth about herself and the world. In the end, discovering that the answer lies within herself, she is able to follow her heart and find her way back home.

At different seasons of life, we may ask ourselves, “What now? Where is my home? What is home to me now?” I have asked myself these questions often since returning from living abroad. I also find myself an empty-nester and, at 65 receiving Medicare, you could say I’m retired. I am finding my way home.  I see my husband asking the same questions. So is our youngest daughter, who recently graduated from college. I cross paths with many people who are in transition and looking for the way home.

I’ve thought a lot about what home means to me at this season of life.  I think of a place to belong, a welcoming place, a place where I am truly known and accepted.  I noted in my journal a line I heard on a favorite PBS series: “A woman of substance can make her home anywhere.”  So, what is that substance that allows her to be home?

There are times in life where we can feel stripped and emptied. Naked, if you will. A loss comes upon us—loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or loss of a dream of how we thought things would be.  I think of Job, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there…Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). I am coming to believe that God is as present in the taking away as He is in the giving. When all is stripped away and I feel most naked, God stands ready to welcome me home.

In the Biblical account of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:17), we are told that the son “came to himself.”  He is given a moment of clarity when he sees the truth about himself and his troubling situation—his pigpen. Just as God called him home, God wants me to come home to my true, genuine, God-created self. I have heard it said that the spiritual journey is coming back home to the present moment and to one’s true self.  So, what if a way I discover God is through really being me?  What if at the core of me is God? As Catherine of Genoa wrote: “My me is God.” I want that substance.

I see this homecoming theme in my recovery community. When someone comes to their first meeting, they are greeted with “Welcome home.” This greeting implies that the person has accepted that they are an alcoholic and need help. They have come home to where they belong.  They have made the first step in allowing the Creator to show them what He has in mind for them, His Creation, rather than what they have fashioned for themselves. Meister Eckhart tells us that God is at home; it is we who have gone out for a walk.

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” St. Catherine of Siena

It takes courage to come home. To exercise our particular gifts and be all we can be. To listen to the voice of God rather than the taunts of fear. I am also finding that there is something God-honoring about living within one’s limits. My own limits and the limits of the communities in which I live and work.  It can be beautiful. I can ask myself: “Is it right for me? Is it right at this time? Is it right at this place?” It can be very life-giving to learn to be me in community.  To mean what I say and say what I mean.

At this new season of my life, I find myself more and more longing to be authentic. To be who God is fashioning me to be. I want to embrace my unique giftedness and my limitations in the moment.  Both are part of the genuine me.   A couple we know recently wrote: “We both have entered this season of our sixties and relish the full flowering of our lives.” I like to think that I, too, am coming into the full flowering of my life. I believe God desires this for all of us, to be fully and authentically alive in each season of life.

Another friend recently pointed out that the root word of authentic is author.  I like to think of the Divine Author, my Creator, writing my life. I recently heard a story about a wood carver who was carving a statue of Jesus. When asked how he did it so well, he responded: “That’s easy. I just carve away anything that doesn’t look like Jesus.”  Even though I know it is uncomfortable and sometimes very painful, I want God to carve away in me anything that doesn’t look like Jesus.  As Augustine said to God, “You were within me and I was outside.” Surrendering the image of myself that I have fashioned can be painful, but necessary to bring forth Christ in me, my true heart’s desire.

Each of us has an inner voice that calls us to be who we are. I want to be a woman who forgives easily and loves unconditionally. I want to bring joy and peace to my world, to my communities. That joy and peace starts with me being at home with myself and the life God has given me right now.

I can see how I already have what I desperately want: The Divine Presence in the present moment.  That’s home. It is available to us all.  There really is no place like home—the present moment where I can be the true, authentic me experiencing what is and let God be God and decide what will be.

 

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Our youngest daughter, Beka, and I enjoying a homecoming moment.