Together Through Lent

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Watercolor art by Kathy Manis Findley. The watercolor — “Together” — represents the spiritual covenants we share with one another, bonds that strengthen our faith. 

I have always thought of Lent as a spiritual journey we take alone, a solitary season of introspection and self-reflection during which we contemplate our own spiritual well-being and our relationship with God. For me, Lent has always been alone work. But what if it wasn’t? Suppose I experienced Lent with my community — the close community of people with whom I share my spiritual life.

I cannot help but recall the story of Jephthah’s daughter as told in Judges 11. When she faces a terrible crisis that will result in her death at the hands of her father, she makes only one request of her father. “Do what you must do, only grant me this one request: Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my sisters.”

So she will take this journey up into the hills with her sisters — to mourn, to reflect, to pray. She will not make this journey alone. She makes the journey with the sisters who surrounded her in life and now in death. They climb up into the hills together.

Lent’s forty days represent the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, enduring the temptation of Satan and preparing to begin his ministry. He was there alone, and most often the Lenten journey is a time for reflecting alone. But I think that perhaps there is spiritual benefit in making a Lenten journey together, in community, joining together through invisible rhythms of friendship and caring.

As I make my Lenten journey this year, in my mind I will take my community with me. There into my alone places where God comforts me in my contemplative moments, in my repentance and in my penitence, I will be more mindful this Lent of my spiritual circle of friends. I will make a covenant with them in my mind and heart. I will send them positive thoughts as they make their Lenten journey and I will pray for them intentionally and faithfully.

It will be a together Lent, inspired by the sisters who went into the hills with Jephthah’s daughter where they spent a season of grief in community, together.

I hope that, together, we might embrace a sense of community as one of our Lenten spiritual disciplines, that we might journey together for these forty days, praying for one another, seeking together the serenity, the reflection and the transformation of Lent.

In that spirit of prayer, I leave with you this beautiful prayer written by Rabbi Naomi Levy:

The rabbi in me would like to offer a prayer for you.
I pray you will learn to see you life as a meaningful story.
I pray you will learn to listen to your soul’s insistent yearning.
I pray you will learn to believe you can transform your life.
I pray you will learn to live and shine inside your imperfect life
and find meaning and joy right where you are.
Most of all I pray you will uncover a great miracle: your extra-ordinary life.

— From Hope Will Find You by Rabbi Naomi Levy

I Can Face Tomorrow

Enlight272Yesterday was not my best day. All day long challenges got the best of me — health challenges, schedule challenges, even bad haircut challenges. My sister of the heart, Donna, said I was cranky. My husband, Fred, said I should chalk it up to Ash Wednesday. Martie, my dear Little Rock friend, said that yesterday was the first day of Mercury in retrograde and that I should do my best to survive until it’s over on March 28th.

I’m not so convinced of any of those explanations, but I’ll let it be for now. Today is a new day, a day in which I have chosen peace for the beginning of my Lenten journey. Typically, the way I find peace is through music. So Pandora is on my sacred music station today. It would be an understatement to say that the music has lifted me today and has almost made yesterday’s fiascoes a dim memory.

As I listened, a song from my past brought sweet memories. Years ago, before I learned to renounce masculine pronouns to refer to God, I was inspired greatly by these words: “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow.” We sang this Gospel song often to remind us of hope, of perseverance, of God’s faithfulness and of Christ’s resurrection. Today, those words and that melody on Pandora reminded me of those exact things. In spite of masculine pronoun referring to God, the music moved me as it has always done. The message has not changed. God has not changed. My faith in Christ has not changed. Thanks be to God!

Here’s my truth as I follow my Lenten path, the abiding truth: “Tomorrow” for me seems murky, with the path ahead unknown and somewhat disconcerting. I do not know if I will receive a kidney transplant or live on daily dialysis for the rest of my life. I do not know what tomorrow promises.

But this is as it has always been — before illness and after. I never knew what tomorrow would bring, even in those days when I thought I was fearlessly and fully in control of my life. So it feels like a Lenten testimony of my faith to say that I do not know what tomorrow looks like for me. Leaning into the reality of the unknown future, I feel embraced in the consoling truth that “because He lives, I can face tomorrow.”

Of this, I am confident. Resting on this promise, I can move onto the Lenten path before me with refreshed hope and renewed faith. Amen.

What’s Underneath?

A07A5421-F042-40D4-A143-32391BBC79FBToday, a friend’s blog posed a provocative question. It was provocative enough to stop me in my tracks. Likely, I was right in the middle of a tirade of complaints when this question challenged me. This was the question: “If I let go of my complaints, what might be underneath?” *

The question presented a plethora of thoughts for me. It opened up that place underneath just for a second. But then I quickly moved back to the complaints. I have many. Or at least I believe I have many reasons to complain. But I’m realizing that complaints are surface things. They live outside of us and do not always reflect the inner emotions we are truly feeling.

A complaint develops easily and blurts out what’s on the surface of our lives. It flows easily off the tongue and falls upon any willing listener. The empathy we receive from that willing listener keeps the complaints alive. If someone listens to us and responds with caring about our complaint, it is then cemented. We have given it life, perhaps life beyond what it deserves.

This brings us back to the probing question: “If I let go of my complaints, what might be underneath?”

If gratefulness for the obvious graces that we have received replaced the urge to complain, we would be surprised at the result. If, instead of lodging a complaint, we spent some time exploring what lives “underneath,” we might well gain true insight into our emotional state. 

So we would do well to ask ourselves what’s underneath the complaint we speak out loud? Is it true that our complaint rises from a deep place inside of us but hides the emotion there?

If my complaint, for instance, is that I am overworked, perhaps underneath is the constant feeling that I’m being taken advantage of. If my complaint is that I have to endure an illness, perhaps the feeling underneath is that I fear suffering, even death. If I am terrified of death, perhaps I am not certain I left a good and lasting legacy. If I’m languishing in retirement, perhaps the emotion “underneath” is that, now that I am not “ministering,” I am questioning my self-worth.

You might be asking why this is important. It is important because whatever lives inside of us holds the power to harm us physically, emotionally and spiritually. What could we do instead of complaining? 

  • We might begin with silence that moves us a bit towards serenity.
  • Next, we will practice mindfulness that helps center us.
  • We woukd do well to contemplate gratitude for the graces of life. 
  • Then we should pray for insight, comfort and healing, not only praying for what we need from God, but also listening for God, abiding for a while in God’s presence.
  • Then we must take time for what might be the most important practice of all: introspection and self-reflection.

One of the primary goals of introspection is to better comprehend our inward life and to learn to focus it towards fulfillment of self. To go there is to invite vulnerability, healthy vulnerability that softens the hard places inside me that are wounded. Then we need to pull up from our inner resources just a little bit of courage.

When all is said and done, each of us is given a critical choice: do we complain about all that is not right? Or does courage enable us to look underneath our complaints and discover what our true emotions are?

For myself, I have to ponder these questions: What am I grieving? What have I lost? What do I fear? Underneath my whining and complaining (which I am very apt to do) I will find a gift, a treasure that is my very soul and spirit, and the emotions that abide there.

And as a bonus, I will have found a better way to live my “one wild and precious life.” **

* From A Network of Grateful Living

** From a poem by Mary Oliver. 

On to a New “New Normal”

7519DB43-1B31-43A9-9528-84655345CC44I’m getting to know myself. Again! Moving through life takes one through changes large and small. We slip past the small ones pretty much unscathed. But oh, those large ones! The large changes are another story altogether. Sometimes they cause us to miss a step or two. Sometimes they stop us right where we stand. Sometimes they throw us all the way to the ground. But they always get our attention.

Chronic illness is one of those ‘knock-you-to-the-ground” changes, especially when an illness happens suddenly. In a recent New York Times article, Tessa Miller shares how sudden illness changes one’s life and how chronic illness changes life forever. 

“Seven Thanksgiving ago, I got sick and I never got better,” Miller writes. She goes on to describe the conundrum of chronic illness. 

When I was diagnosed, I didn’t know how much my life would change. There’s no conversation about that foggy space between the common cold and terminal cancer, where illness won’t go away but won’t kill you, so none of us know what “chronic illness” means until we’re thrown into being sick forever.

I can identify with the changes Tessa Miller describes. The onset of my chronic illness five years ago was sudden, unexpected and permanent. My kidneys failed — simple as that. And I entered into the unfamiliar world of daily dialysis, a world I never expected to be in. And, yes, it was life-changing.

Tessa Miller makes another very insightful point. She explains how, once you find yourself in the fog of the changes you’re facing because of a chronic illness, one change presents the biggest challenge – the change in your relationship with yourself.

There is no debate: when chronic illness disturbs the equilibrium of your life, your relationship with yourself changes. You grieve a version of yourself that doesn’t exist anymore, and a future version that looks different than what you had ever imagined.

Chronic illness can shatter career goals and life plans. You learn learn a “new normal” in their place. But the acceptance of a “new normal” comes after the trauma. And trauma does happen, trauma that necessarily calls for therapy, either formal or informal.

Emotional work definitely needs to be done, and emotional work around chronic illness can look a lot like grief therapy for a passing loved one. You lose your self, at least temporarily. Your self changes.

So make sure to spend some time looking for YOU. Intentionally. Being open to whatever you find in yourself. Practice seeing yourself as the person you are instead of the person you were. Looking in the proverbial mirror gives you an image of the new version of yourself. Get to know her. Celebrate her resilience. Above all, be patient as you get to know her. You may be surprised at how much you like and admire her.

 

 

Giving Primary Energy to Primary Things

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Abstract energy formation

Yesterday was “one of those days.” I spent the day pondering my illness, the constant medical processes in my life, my sense of isolation and my losses. It seems I have failed in the work of giving primary energy to primary things. In fact, yesterday I gave up a great deal of energy obsessing on circumstances I cannot change. But there are circumstances in my life that I can change, and I made some promises to myself: 1) I will try to get out more;  2) I will work on dwelling on life’s positive aspects; and 3) I will focus on primary things and put secondary things on hold.

I received some unexpected help with Number 3 late last night. It was in the blog of Guy Sayles,* a friend I haven’t heard from in years. Stumbling across his thoughts was a serendipity for me. This is part of what he wrote.

I don’t want to reach the end, however soon or later I reach it, and have to admit that I’ve given primary energy to secondary things, toured the periphery rather than made a pilgrimage to the center, and complied with external demands instead of responding to the internal and eternal Voice. For the love of God—I mean it: for the love of God—it’s time to discover or rediscover what I most deeply believe to be true in response to questions like:

What keeps people from knowing, deep in their bones, that they are God’s beloved children? How can we help each other to know?

How can we trust that, because of God’s vast and self-giving love, there is “no condemnation” by God and “no separation” from God? What do communities enlivened by such trust look, sound and feel like? How can we fashion and sustain such communities?

How do grace and mercy heal our brokenness, even when they don’t cure our illnesses or end our pain?

How does love displace fear—in individuals; in families, tribes, and communities; and among nations?

What are the ways of life that place and keep us in harmony with the “grain of the universe”? How do we learn and encourage one another to honor them?

What does it mean—what could it mean?—that Jesus calls us his friends?

There are more. Questions like these shape my vocation now. I can’t number the times the Spirit used the poetry of Mary Oliver to call me back to my calling. It happened again last week. After she died, these words were everywhere:

“Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

That has been my question for a very long time, for years in fact: What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

I really must answer that one, knowing that what’s left of my life is much shorter than it used to be. It’s time — it’s past time — for me to give primary energy to primary things, and that’s not a bad idea for you either. For you see, we only get one wild and precious life — just one!

 

* I invite you to visit the blog written by Guy Sayles at this link: https://fromtheintersection.org/blog/

Monday’s Merry-go-Round

9BE03E1D-A1FC-4BE9-8BBD-7BCFAA9F6E03It’s one of those Mondays again, those days that just weigh on you a bit too heavily. You have to push yourself to start a new week. You feel that deep-down tiredness that overcomes you and you don’t even know why. Know the feeling?

Nothing has changed. You are still in your familiar schedule. You are still the same you that feels strong one minute and despairing the next. But you feel as if you’re on the proverbial merry-go-round that just keeps circling around the same life and all that’s in it. Round and round, again and again and again.

You might even feel down on yourself for not being “strong” enough to move joyfully through your life. All of this begs the question: Why are you so hard on yourself?

Maybe you should just take a moment for yourself.

Sit back.

Marvel at your life,
at the grief that softened you,
at the heartache that wisened you,
at the suffering that strengthened you.

Despite everything,
you still grow.

Be proud of this.

Today, I pray for you this prayer that has sustained so many through generations.

I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, God may grant that you be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your heart through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

— Ephesians 3:16-19 New Revised Standard Version (Paraphrased)

 

 

 

Starting Over

775D14C9-8802-4DEA-BD06-33C669F187B7Here’s the thing about life: things crash and break, obstacles can stop you in your tracks, you can get completely cut down. It happens to all of us.

One option is simply to give up on life. Or maybe to retreat into a private place for sulking. Another option is to be angry and to live the rest of your life angry.

But the reality is much more optimistic than any of those dismal options. Because no matter what happens in your life, you can start over. Starting over is really not so bad. I’ve done it many times and I survived it. So if we can accept the fact that something in life is over, there is hope for the days to come. 

I choose to see starting over as a fresh new beginning, another chance to do life differently. If I start over with a positive attitude, it can be an opportunity to head into the future wiser and more confident. Starting over can offer a path ahead that’s full of promise.

That’s what I’ll count on.

Birth Song

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“Love” – Himba Mother and Child by Ciska McCormick

Little Grandmother — a world-renowned spiritual teacher, Shaman, Wisdom Keeper and the gatherer of the Tribe of Many Colors — tells this beautiful story.

Of all the African tribes still alive today, the Himba tribe is one of the few that counts the birth date of the children not from the day they are born or conceived, but from the day the mother decides to have the child. When a Himba woman decides to have a child, she goes off and sits under a tree, by herself, and she listens until she can hear the song of the child who wants to come. After she has heard the song of this child, she goes back to the man who will be the child’s father and teaches him the song. When they physically conceive the child, they sing the song of the child as a way of inviting the child to earth.

When she becomes pregnant, the mother teaches the child’s song to the midwives and the old women of the village, so that when the child is born, the old women and the people gather around the child and sing the child’s song to welcome him/her. As the child grows up, the other villagers are taught the child’s song. If the child falls, or gets hurt, someone picks him/her up and sings to him/her his/her song as a gift of comfort.

In the Himba tribe, there is one other occasion when the “child song” is sung to the Himba child, who has now grown up to be a tribesperson. If a Himba tribesperson commits a crime or does something that is against the Himba social norms, the villagers call him or her into the center of the village. The community forms a circle around him/her and they sing his/her birth song.

The Himba people view correction, not as a punishment, but as love and remembrance of identity. For when you recognize your own song, you have no desire or need to do anything that would hurt another person

Finally, when the Himba tribesman/tribeswoman is lying in his/her bed, ready to die, all the villagers that know his or her song come and sing, for the last time, that person’s song.

May you hear, in your heart, your own birth song, and may it give you peace, hope, courage and strength for life.

 

*Little Grandmother is the author of the book: “Message for the Tribe of Many Colors,” published in 13 different languages. Her talks are freely available on the web and on YouTube and have been viewed by millions of people all over the world. You may follow her work on her Facebook page, Little Grandmother Kiesha, as well as on her website: www.littlegrandmother.net. You may purchase her books at www.earthmotherpublishing.com, or you may contact her at beautyawakens@gmail.com.

 

 

Losing Hope

 

Losing Hope And Interest Quote Motivational Quotes For Hope Pics 15+ Don't Lose Hope Quotes With

Dr. Michelle Bengtson

How do we live after we have lost hope? How do we live with brokenness? What do we say to a broken world? What do we do with our broken hearts? The truth is that each day can bring us heartbreak. Any season of life can bring us failure. At times, the struggle is so intense that we do lose hope. 

Khalil Gibran has written that “out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” 

How true that is, that our suffering makes us stronger, that our scars make us resilient. Most of us move through life steeled against any suffering. We bravely put on our body armor to protect us against every assault. We refuse to allow our vulnerability to rise within us.

I have been strengthened by Brené Brown’s book, “Rising Strong.” She points us to wisdom that names hope is a function of struggle, and challenges us to not be afraid to lean into discomfort.

Why would we want to do that, you might ask? Who in their right mind really wants to invite adversity into their lives? Why would we want to be vulnerable? We need to be strong. We need to live into courage. We need to be impenetrable, tough and impervious to anything that might hurt us.

Here’s what Brené Brown says about that:

Hiding out, pretending and armoring up against vulnerability are killing us: killing our spirits, our hope, our potential, our creativity . . . Our love, our faith, our joy. We’re sick of being afraid and sick of hustling for our self-worth. We want to be brave, but deep inside of we know that being brave requires us to be vulnerable.

“No adversity, no hope,” she writes. “Fall. Get up. Try again.”

As people of faith, we can speak, through our own heartbreak, to a broken world. We can offer the message that if you feel that you have to give up, hope whispers, “try one more time.”

When we live in life’s fullness, with our whole hearts, we will always know heartbreak. We will push to try something new, and sometimes we will fail completely. We will experience disappointment. But without those heartbreak times, we will never know that we can get beyond them.

If we never fall, we will never know that we really can get up. If we never lose hope, we will never experience the joy of finding it again.

If we never lose hope, we will never know new hope, fresh and pointing us toward the skies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I used to be . . .

734D4A65-1E4E-4705-A356-D13DF9C7F9B4I used to be . . . 

It’s a phrase I use a lot these days as I fight off the feeling that in retirement, I am useless. It’s not true, of course, that I am useless. But to be honest, I do feel just a little useless these days, at least some of the time. The reason? I used to be a bona fide workaholic. I used to feel important and productive. I used to be busy all the time, night and day. I used to be a perfectionist. I used to have just a bit of obsessive compulsive disorder, and all,of that drove me to a dangerous place.

The problem is that when you love and believe in your work so much, your work can become your whole life. Then things can get unbearable. So I admit that I am a recovering workaholic. I was the person that put in far more than 40 hours a week and never took a day off. But the critical question I had to answer was this: Is my ego at the root of my workaholism?

What was the job that was important enough to push me to work so hard?

I was a minister and a trauma counselor, and I was executive director of Safe Places, a nonprofit organization that served victims of violence. There was always someone in trouble, someone who had been battered by a spouse, someone trying to escape trafficking, a teen that was recovering from rape, a child that had been abused. So the work was never done.

I loved my work. I believed in it with all my heart. But I could not see what others saw. I could not believe the truth spoken by friends and colleagues, that I needed rest, that my work was hurting me. As much as I didn’t want to admit it, I was working myself sick. Circumstances, and maybe the alignment of the stars, brought me to a “come to Jesus” moment that forced me to take stock of my life. I realized I couldn’t do it all. So I took a very slight respite and pulled back from the constant work. In the meantime, as the stars would have it, we lost our federal funding, and suddenly Safe Places was gone. It was over. 

The stress did not end, though, because those that needed help kept calling . . . my phone. I had no staff left and, though I tried, I simply could not continue helping all these hurting people by myself. So I was forced into an unwanted and unplanned rest. 

During this “rest” time, grief and loss took over my psyche. But miraculously, my body began to rest. My pace slowed down. I was becoming mindful of every moment and what was going on in every moment. And in spite of the grief and sadness, my mind and spirit began to heal. What happened next was the shock of a lifetime. As my mind and spirit began to heal, I finally allowed my body to tell me what was going on. My doctors got to the bottom of it and diagnosed me with end stage kidney disease. Before I could even begin to take it all in, I was hospitalized and on dialysis.

I honestly believe I had worked myself to death, or at least nearer to death than I wanted to be. I spent a great deal of 2014 in the hospital trying to stabilize and then working to take my life back. It was hard work learning to write again, to think again, to walk again. But I made it through to a “new normal” that meant for me at least 7 1/2 hours of dialysis every day for the rest of my life, unless, of course, I am able to get a kidney transplant.

The experience of serious illness changed me. After I began to recover, people told me that I was unusually quiet. I didn’t speak much even when others around me were engaged in meaningful conversations. I knew that I was being quiet, quite unlike my normal personality. I was often silent when normally I would have had a great deal to say. I was different, to be sure, but inside myself I was okay. If I had to describe myself I would say that I was soft, broken open and free. And I was content in that place, although my family was concerned about me. I had traveled to a new place in my life, and it was a good place to be.

So here I sit in my “new normal,” tending plants, painting, cooking, writing, reading, and doing all things for pleasure. Most often I am still tempted to dive in and work on something until I am exhausted. But when the tiredness begins to creep up, something in my body remembers. Remembers I need to rest, to embrace stillness, to just “be.”

Still, I fight my old workaholic ways. Sometimes they push me to do things faster and better and longer. Sometimes my old workaholic ways push my button, the button that accuses me of uselessness, as in, “You are not worth much anymore! What are you going to do to change the world?”

Good news! I have finally given myself permission to not change the world. It has been a major shift for me, but I am seeing the truth more clearly, that I never could have changed the world anyway! So most of the time, when I feel myself pushing past my edge, I walk away. I write a blog post or fiddle with my flowers. I cook something fabulous or watch a little Netflix. So what will I do to live happily in these retirement days? I hope that I will keep studying the secret art of rest. I hope that I will continue to learn the grace of mindfulness, just cherishing the moment, every moment.

I used to be a workaholic. Not anymore.

Oh, and one more thing . . . a prayer. Though my faith tradition has always eschewed prayers to Mary, mother of Jesus, many very beautiful and meaningful prayers are prayed to her. I leave you with this one written by Mirabai Starr.

Mother of Consolation, help me to let myself be consoled. 

I hold it all together, Blessed One. 

I have convinced myself that it is up to me to keep the airplane aloft with my own breath, that I am the only one capable of baking bread and scrubbing floors, that it is my responsibility alone to alleviate the sorrow in the heart of every single person I know. 

But I have forgotten how to weep, Tender One. 

Teach me to reach out to the ones I comfort and ask for their comfort. 

Let me feel the tender touch of the Holy One on my cheek when I wake in the night, weary and frightened. 

Help me to be vulnerable and soft now, broken open and free.

— Mirabai Starr