Holding Hope

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The Sixth Day of Advent
Transplant Day Twenty-five
December 6, 2019


HOLDING

The Day is here
and we made it to Bethlehem!

The time has come for kneeling
and we’ve seen the Child!

There is singing in the stable
and we want desperately to hold on to it . . .
hold on to the Star!
and the angels!
and the spirit of love!

How do we hold on
to the Christmas spirit?
Why can’t every day be Christmas?

The world mutters “Be realistic,”
and sometimes we church people mutter too.

On our way back from Bethlehem
sometimes we forget
what we’ve been warned about in a dream:
to return another way.

Once we’ve seen the Child,
we’re left holding hearts
wherein angels dance
and stars sing!

Once we’ve been to Bethlehem,
every day is Christmas!

— Ann Weems

I am holding, grasping tightly “the Star and the angels and the spirit of love.” My journey to Bethlehem is Advent’s gift. I walk the path with expectation and hope (even just a wee bit of hope some days), and I imagine the glory of the promised Child.

This year during Advent’s pilgrimage, I also walk the rocky path I call my transplant journey. I do hold on to hope as I travel the rough transplant path, and along the way I see tiny glimpses of hope. But not every day. Minute by minute I navigate symptoms and side effects and, on the worse days, my community holds hope for me when I can’t hold it for myself.

On the path — the path of both Bethlehem and transplant journeys — I see graces along the way: stars, angels, Bethlehem’s brightest star, the Child in a simple manger! It’s enough for me, the images that cry out “Hope!” It is holy ground, sacred space. Hope will get me there, sustaining me along the way, as God’s grace carries me.

And the poet’s words are true:

Once I’ve seen the Child, I’m left holding my heart wherein 04E87215-AC50-4CC9-B2F4-6612E56D0CB9angels dance and stars sing!

Thanks be to God!

 

 

“Humbug!” and Hope!

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The Fourth Day of Advent

Transplant Day Twenty-three
December 4, 2019

IN DECEMBER DARKNESS

The whole world waits in December darkness
for a glimpse of the Light of God.
Even those who snarl “Humbug!”
and chase away the carolers
have been looking toward the skies.

The one who declared he never would forgive
has forgiven,
and those who left home
have returned,

and even wars are halted,
if briefly,
as the whole world looks starward.

In the December darkness
we peer from our windows
watching for an angel with rainbow wings
to announce the Hope of the World.

— Ann Weems

In this season of my life, it would be easy to snarl “Humbug!” and move on to ordinary, tedious, plodding daily living. It’s hard to look starward when pain is your nightly companion, sticking much too close in the darkness of night, the darkness of life. My words this morning are not Advent-inspired words. They are, pure and simple, a factual and real assessment of where I find myself. My most pressing question? How do I get from “Humbug!” to Hope?

It will require an extra measure of faith, patience and perseverance. It will require my willingness to welcome a new normal. It may call for a little extra weeping, a bit more courage, a wide-open soul and maybe even a few angels to illuminate the way ahead.

To be honest, I have to say that on top of my physical pain is my incessant emotional pain that whispers, “You are not okay!” over and over and over again. I know this is not very Advent-like. This view of my current health and well-being is most definitely not Advent-like. But instead of my constant post- transplant complaints and consternations, I want to look for the star in the night sky. I want to listen for the hope-filled sound of the heavenly host singing “Alleluia!” I want to be standing in awe of angels with rainbow wings.

All of this descriptive information is about my current emotional/physical/spiritual space. I know that I don’t want to stay here in this dark place. I know it’s a temporary, necessary time of moving into healing and wholeness. Still, it often feels like darkness. Much more like “Humbug!” than Hope!

So from this dark place, I will myself to look starward, even briefly. I will see past the December darkness. I plan to peer out of my transplant-veiled windows, watching for an angel with rainbow wings announcing the Hope of the World!

May Spirit make it so.

Star-Giving

The Third Day of Advent
Transplant Day Twenty-Two
December 3, 2019

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STAR-GIVING

What I’d really like to give you for Christmas is a star . . . .
Brilliance in a package,
something that you could keep in the pocket of your jeans
or in the pocket of your being.
Something to take out in times of darkness,
something that would never snuff out or tarnish,
something you could hold in your hand,
something for wonderment,
something for pondering,
something that would remind you of
what Christmas has always meant:
God’s Advent Light into the darkness of this world.

But stars are only God’s for giving,
and I must be content to give you words and wishes
and packages without stars.

But I can wish you life
as radiant as the Star
that announced the Christ Child’s coming,
and as filled with awe as the shepherds who stood
beneath its light.

And I can pass on to you the love
that has been given to me,
ignited countless times by others
who have knelt in Bethlehem’s light.

Perhaps, if you ask, God will give you a star.

— Ann Weems

This poem by Ann Weems called me to think about gifts, about giving gifts and receiving them, about learning how to cherish the gifts we receive, even those gifts we fail to recognize as gifts. My husband, Fred, tells stories of delightful Christmas parties at his country church — a full pot luck meal, tables lined with deserts of every kind, a decorated cedar Christmas tree and, of course, the gift exchange. He tells about wondering what gift he would receive days before the party and how the party-goers seemed to bring the same gifts every year: chocolate covered cherries, socks, a Claxton fruitcake, ear muffs, puzzles, home-canned jelly, ornaments, maybe even a knit toboggan from the Dollar Store. As for Fred, he always hoped for the cherries.

The party was mostly about the gifts — humble, simple, inexpensive, cherished. In thinking about gifts, the idea of cherishing gifts seems important. After all, if one can cherish a Claxton fruitcake, it would be easy to learn to cherish other gifts. Ann Weems expressed like this:

What I’d really like to give you for Christmas is a star . . . .Brilliance in a package, something that you could keep in the pocket of your jeans or in the pocket of your being.

Something to take out in times of darkness, something that would never snuff out or tarnish, something you could hold in your hand, Something for wonderment. . .

My attention went directly to “something for wonderment.” A kidney from my living donor is a gift for wonderment, to cherish. My new spiritual director who found me through an online group of female clergy is a gift for wonderment. My compassionate, tireless caregiver during this trying recuperation is a gift for wonderment. My friends and family — constantly caring, constantly praying — is a gift for wonderment. I can cherish those gifts.

Still, cherishing the gifts you receive is not a given. It’s not always easy. Let me offer an example. I had a phone conversation yesterday with a new friend who is also a kidney transplant traveler. Though every transplant recipient is unique in the way they adjust to life after a transplant, the two of us shared some definite commonalities. Both of us spoke of physical pain — his about 15 years ago; mine current, constant and debilitating. I could closely identify with much of what he told me he experienced. He spoke of his lack of faith in the immunosuppressant medications, a lack of trust in decisions doctors made during his year of follow-up care, and even very little hope that having a transplant was a wise decision.

We also talked about gifts for wonderment, gifts to cherish, gifts we should cherish, but sometimes cannot. A kidney transplant — especially when you are in the throes of recovery with a 9 inch incision held together with 33 metal staples — doesn’t always feel like a gift.

The last thing my new friend said about our kidney transplants is this:

“It’s a gift! It’s a miracle!”

Most assuredly, a kidney transplant is a miracle and a gift of wonderment, a gift to be cherished. Much like the stars in Ann Weems’ poem —- “brilliance in a package, something to take out in times of darkness, a gift of wonderment, something like God’s gift of stars.” Such a gift is radiance, light breaking through our darkness, a gift to be cherished.

I think I’ll try to be visionary enough, present enough, hopeful enough to catch one of God’s stars to hold in my hand and to keep until I need them most.04E87215-AC50-4CC9-B2F4-6612E56D0CB9

Amen.

Dark Night or Advent Light

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The Second Day of Advent
Transplant Day Twenty-One
December 2, 2019

THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT

The Christmas spirit
is that hope
which tenaciously clings
to the hearts of the faithful
and announces
in the face of any Herod the world can produce
and all the inn doors slammed in our faces
and all the dark nights of our souls
that with God
all things still are possible,
that even now
unto us
a Child is born!

What could this beautiful poem titled The Christmas Spirit possibly have to do with my recent kidney transplant? At first glance, not much. But lingering on the poet’s words made some of them leap from the page for me. I have to admit that the words most piercing to me are these: “. . . all the dark nights of our souls.”

Guilt overwhelmed me after the transplant was complete. I was back in my room six hours after the surgery — barely awake, a little confused, exhausted, in pain and, they tell me, very quick-tempered. I yelled at my husband, something I may have done twice in 50 years of marriage. The truth is I was feeling covered with a blanket of guilt. The nurses, my surgeon, my family were all celebrating the transplant miracle. I was in pain, second-guessing my decision to even have the transplant in the first place and feeling guilty for not acknowledging the miracle everyone else saw.

For the next two days, every person on my transplant team who came to see me entered my room with a large smile and expressed one word, “Congratulations!” said with joy in a most celebratory voice. All the while, I was often weeping pain’s quiet tears. I stared at each congratulating person with a little bit of concealed contempt. In my mind, if not on my lips, was a response that went something like this: “Congratulations? Do you have any idea what kind of pain I am experienced right now? And have you had this surgery yourself? Save your congratulations for another day!”

The physical pain was very real and very intense. The soul pain hurt even deeper. Body and soul — the physical, spiritual and emotional — were so intricately fused together that it was all but impossible to isolate or separate them. Is this just physical pain? Is part of it emotional pain? Am I experiencing, heaven forbid, a spiritual crisis? I found no way to tell. For me, it was pain in all three parts of me and that made it almost intolerable.

For two nights, I did not sleep at all — awake all night, feeling alone, abandoned and in a wrestling match with my pain. As I went over and over in my mind all the reasons I had for getting a transplant, my thoughts morphed into a fairly clear “What have I done?”

It felt so much like a dark night of the soul as I grieved my aloneness and isolation, mourned the loss of my previous life and felt deep fear of the dark, unknown path ahead. And all of those points of crisis made me feel that guilt for not being grateful for the living gift of a kidney.

As Ann Weems’ expresses in the poem, “Hope tenaciously clings to the hearts of the faithful and announces in the face . . . of all the dark nights of our souls, that with God all things still are possible, that even now unto us a Child is born!”

Twenty-one days separated from my transplant, I am able to attest that hope does cling tenaciously in my heart, that hope announces in the face of the dark night of my soul that with God, all things are still possible. And most importantly, “Unto us a Child is born!”

Into me a Child is born, and that presence empowers me to walk through my soul’s darkest night into the light that Advent brings.

Thanks be to God.

    

Into This Dark and Silent Night

The First Sunday of Advent
December 1, 2019

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INTO THIS SILENT NIGHT

Into this silent night
as we make our weary way
we know not where,
just when the night becomes its darkest
and we cannot see our path,
just then
is when the angels rush in,
their hands full of stars.

— Ann Weems

All of us find ourselves in dark places — when the darkness is thick, when we are immersed in silence, when we try our best to make our weary way but the way ahead is veiled.

How disconcerting it is when the night becomes its darkest and we cannot see our path. I have been in that kind of place, and I imagine you have as well. It’s dark when you lose a loved one; when you relocate to a different, unknown place; when you must be away from those you love and who love you back; when a divorce brings you grief and uncertainty; when your children are in trouble; when you suffer an illness or endure a major surgery or treatment. The list of dark seasons of life is endless, personal, hiding in the depths of our wounded places.

We feel a deep kind of despair that does not seem to lift. We hold inside us invisible wounds of the soul and spirit that cannot be healed quickly or easily. Healing of the soul is a long, slow process but it does happen as time brings healing grace. Still, we experience the darkness at a time when the world around us is trying to rush us ever so quickly into Christmas. It is to our benefit if we can hold back and let the darkness call us to places we have never been. Gayle Boss expresses it like this:

Advent, to the Church Fathers, was the right naming of the season when light and life are fading. They urged the faithful to set aside four weeks to fast, give, and pray — all ways to strip down, to let the bared soul recall what it knows beneath its fear of the dark, to know what Jesus called “the one thing necessary”: that there is One who is the source of all life, One who comes to be with us and in us, even, especially, in darkness and death. One who brings a new beginning.

I wonder if in this Advent season I can let my “bared soul recall what it knows beneath its fear of the dark?” I wonder for all of us, will we let Advent be a time of waiting, a time of hoping without knowing, a time of emptying so that we can be filled with God’s Presence? Will we take time to allow the Advent darkness to do its work in us? Because the beautiful hope of Advent is that while we are waiting, lingering in its darkness, just when we realize we cannot see our path “is when angels rush in, their hands full of stars.

Amen.

On Roses and Thorns

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Transplant Day Eighteen
November 29, 2019

There is always more than one way to experience an event, a setback, a difficult season of life. “Look on the bright side,” is a common admonition. Or “count your blessings.” Or “consider the alternative.” And that is just naming a few of the many pieces of advice people have offered me in the past few weeks. Problem is, I am at a time of life when I really don’t want to hear all the “good” advice. I have a retort, expressed out loud or just in my mind, that asks, “Have you walked in my shoes?”

Of course I know the answer to that — no one has walked in my shoes. No one knows how I feel, or how deeply I am languishing. No one understands well enough to give me positive admonitions. The truth is twofold: one) that other people are giving me positive affirmation because they truly care; and two) ultimately I will have to work out my own ways of coping and getting to the point of feeling positive again.

It’s a process, and not an easy one. It takes introspection, being gentle with myself and a good amount of positive self-talk. In a way, I am doing exactly what others are trying to do for me. I am contemplating the same positive advice others have given me. I get into my inner self and I think through positive admonitions and even simple platitudes designed to lift my spirit.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes not so much. It depends upon so many factors, at least for me. How is my pain? Do I feel worried or anxious? Do I feel as if my body is healing? Do I feel cared for? Are my medications playing havoc with me? Do I believe I can live with my limitations and restrictions? How close is my relationship with God? How positive is my outlook on life? How strong is my faith and do I feel hopeful about the future?

I read many years ago one of those simple platitudes designed to help create a positive outlook. 

We can complain because roses have thorns or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.

I copied it. I rendered it in calligraphy. I looked up its origin. As I contemplate it in the suffering of this post transplant season, I can’t help but believe that it must have affected me in some positive way because I have remembered it for more than 25 years.

So it’s essentially a choice I have to make — complain about the thorns or enjoy the roses. It’s not a bad life lesson to tuck into my heart and sit with for this difficult season of my life.

Oh, and by the way, most of the time when people offer me positive encouragement, I feel loved and cared for. I feel their compassion and the hope they lift up before me. I am grateful for that and for them.

Nearer, Still Nearer

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Transplant Day Seventeen
November 28, 2019

Sometimes an old hymn — a hymn the contemporary church has discarded from its worship — can eloquently speak to the heart. There are many hymns I call hymns of the heart because they touch me so deeply. In these days of recovery when I find myself away from home and separated from friends and family, a particular old hymn comforts me. One line specifically inspires and moves me — “Shelter me safe in that haven of rest.”

The hymn, “Nearer, Still Nearer” was written by Lelia N. Morris and published in 1898. Here are two stanzas of the hymn text.

Nearer, still nearer, close to Thy heart,
Draw me, my Savior — so precious Thou art!
Fold me, oh, fold me close to Thy breast;
Shelter me safe in that haven of rest;
Shelter me safe in that haven of rest.

Nearer, still nearer, while life shall last,
Till safe in glory my anchor is cast;
Through endless ages ever to be
Nearer, my Savior, still nearer to Thee;
Nearer, my Savior, still nearer to Thee!

Finding myself away from my communities of support, I feel the separation acutely. I feel the loneliness of “apart” time. I feel a breach of relationship and the loss of my covenant community. I know it is necessary to be near Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida for this month so that the transplant team can closely monitor my care. But I miss my home and my faith community and my friends and family, and even my stray cat. I feel isolated at a time when I most need their support and encouragement. And although I strongly feel their prayers from afar, the “afar” part is not so great. I feel vulnerable and I need to feel nearer to my people.

So this hymn that expresses nearness to God is for me a timely expression of my faith and a picture of my current reality. In your contemplative time today, may you be inspired by listening to this beautiful hymn.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCF2D98szaU

 

 

—————————————————
“Nearer, Still Nearer”
Lelia N. Morris, pub.1898
Copyright status is Public Domain

Itchy! Shaky! Puffy!*

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Transplant Day Sixteen
November 27, 2019

An endearing Physician’s Assistant, Melanie, listened carefully to my symptoms, complaints, concerns and pains, taking very seriously every snippet of information I gave her. She responded with a well thought out remedy for each of my concerns. She was thorough in explaining how we would address every problem and she did so with humor and compassion. Melanie was obviously highly trained and impeccably qualified to treat transplant patients. She had many years of experience and could explain every symptom and prescribe a plan to address it. Her encouragement that the unpleasantness would pass over time was a boost to my courage. Her gift to me was increased patience and a renewal of my hope.

At the end of our session, Melanie offered a summary of the visit, a very descriptive, professional and astute summary. “You’re just having a rough patch right now,” she said, “Itchy, shaky and puffy!”

All of a sudden, I knew her words would be the title of my next blog post. “Itchy, shaky and puffy!” Perfect! Simple descriptive words — not just sterile clinical jargon — but extremely real and true. And that’s what my family and friends want most to know. What are you really feeling?

The truth is that, from the transplant itself, I am recovering well, and now with very little pain. But the effects of my high-powered immunosuppressant medications are playing havoc on my body and all its systems.

Itchy — enough to keep me awake through the night.

Shaky — along with weakness makes it hard to walk and even feed myself.

Puffy — I can’t even describe the pressure in my legs that feels like a balloon about to burst. Two times their normal size is not an exaggeration!

There you have it — a very real, true and human description of how I am faring post transplant. It is pure grace to be able to counter the simple description of my ailments with the simple words of encouragement from the Gospel of Luke:

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

— Luke 12:6-7 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

When all is said and done, I am beginning to believe that I really will emerge from this transplant with a stronger faith and an everlasting hope, having learned how to trust God more fully and know in my heart of God’s healing mercies. Most of all, I want to get past this transplant with words of praise to God on my lips, like the Psalmist, declaring that my mourning has turned to dancing:

Hear, O Lord, and have mercy on me;
Lord, be my helper!”
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,
To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.

— From Psalm 30


* With thanks to Melanie.

Just Breathe!

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Transplant Day Fifteen
November 26, 2019

Today will be a better day it seems. Excruciating pain has lifted for the most part. Yet, I am still facing enormous challenges — getting control of my raging blood sugar readings, reducing the swelling that is very uncomfortable, dealing with frequent changes to my medication dosages that are so necessary to prevent my body from rejecting its new kidney, eating the right foods and NOT eating the things that are strictly forbidden, adhering to a stringent regimen of washing all food properly, lathering on hand sanitizer every time I possibly can, wearing sunscreen at all times and never, ever forgetting to wear my mask.

Fortunately, I am married to a caregiver who is the “spreadsheet king” and he has my every move on his spreadsheet, including times and dosages of about 20 medications taken every day — 38 pills, 6 liquids and 6 injections. Three to four times Every week, we have appointments at Mayo Cinic starting at 6:15 am and sometimes continuing into the afternoon. It is making us very tired and overwhelmed, exhausted. There is not one thing about our lives that has not changed.

So I would not be honest if I did not admit my worries, my obsessiveness, my overthinking, my fear, my vivid imagination about all that could go wrong and my wondering what will happen tomorrow, the next day, and all the days ahead.

It is the best advice, I think, to set my focus on two words — just breathe. Just breathe, and have faith that everything will work out for the best. And it won’t hurt to ponder and lean on the many promises of God’s care and grace. These are but a few:

Philippians 4:6-7
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Hebrews 10:23
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

Psalm 91:5-10
You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. 

Isaiah 41:10
Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Proverbs 3:5
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.

Jeremiah 29:11-14
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

2 Corinthians 5:7
For we walk by faith, not by sight.

Psalm 34:4
I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.

Joshua 1:9 
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

It can only harm me to be worried and anxious, frightened and overwhelmed, concerned about what the days ahead will look like. It seems to me that I should just breath, all the while leaning on the everlasting arms.

 

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On another note, please pray for me as I recover from my kidney transplant. I am so grateful that you are walking with me on this journey that often felt so frightening and is now a very difficult and stress-filled recovery time. Your thoughts and prayers mean so much. Your donations have helped us with the expense of staying in Jacksonville, near Mayo Clinic, for this month of post transplant care. If you can contribute or if you would like to read more of the story of my illness, please visit the Georgia Transplant Foundation’s website at this link:

://client.gatransplant.org/goto/KathyMFindley

A “Go Fund Me” page is also set up for contributions to help with the enormous costs related to the transplant, including medications, housing costs for the month we have to stay near the transplant center, uncovered medications and medical equipment, and other unforeseeable costs for my care following the transplant. If you can, please be a part of my transplant journey by making a contribution at this link

https://bit.ly/33KXZOj

 

 

 

Spiritual Direction

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Transplant Day Thirteen
November 24, 2019

I have been offered a blessing. From a stranger. 

I met this kind person through a group of clergywomen called RevGalBlogPals. She is a spiritual director from British Columbia. Through the RevGalBlogPals Facebook group, she happened upon parts of my transplant journey in my blog posts. She began praying for me. Then she offered me the gift of spiritual direction as I pass through this complicated time in my life. 

9299C4C7-3373-43D8-A11E-C2349150F942It has been several years since I worked with a spiritual director, so I was very humbled and thankful to hear from her. These were the words of lovingkindness she wrote to me in our first session.

May you feel the gentle touch of Spirit in this session.
May you know that I am holding you in healing Love.
May you be reminded of your worth and strength…
As you rest.
~ This is spiritual direction when pain does not allow for words.

Burning BushOn the day I received her message, it was so true that pain did not allow for words. The assault on my body was unspeakable on that day. I remember when many years ago my husband’s cardiologist came into his hospital room a few days after his heart surgery. The cardiologist said this: “Let’s look at this terrible thing we’ve done to you.”

His words resonated with me post transplant when, in the throes of struggle and pain, I definitely was looking at the terrible thing they had done to me. I could not quite see a brighter, pain-free future. I could only focus on the physical systems that were in complete disarray after the transplant. It did not help when medical staff told me it was all normal. The way I was experiencing it all was far from normal.

I wondered if I would ever live “normal” again. Or if perhaps I would live into a new normal of life after receiving a transplanted organ. I was not sure, and definitely not confident, that all systems would levelize into something I could tolerate. My spiritual director’s wisdom knows that to have physical normalcy, I must also seek emotional and spiritual normalcy. That would mean healing wholly — from the outer visible body to the inner invisible one. It would mean transformation. It would mean living my life while watching constantly and diligently for any sign that something was physically wrong.

Red Wooden Directional Arrow Signs In Green Forest BackgroundWhen my spiritual director suddenly appeared, I knew that she would help me explore my spiritual state, entering into community with me and pointing to the healing I could not yet see.


Thanks be to God for the beloved community she has offered me, community that forms in unexpected places, in unexpected times, just when I needed community the most.