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Having a Spiritual Director

A few years ago, I found myself smack dab in “mid life” gasping for air. I couldn’t breath. The reality that my 20-year marriage had ended left me shocked. It was as if I had been run over by a truck — a big mud truckjeep-1318706_1280. Confused and unable to think clearly, I sought help from my parish priest.

The loss of my marriage was the initial reason I sought spiritual direction. Obviously, I needed professional counseling, which I received, but I also needed someone to guide me under the rule of the divine. Left to my own human feelings and sinfulness, I was headed on a path to destruction— in the opposite direction from union with God. I was headed out the door with a wrecking ball!

Spiritual direction is defined as being under the guidance of one who is trained in Scripture and Catholic doctrine and helps you become aware, or “awaken” you, to the spiritual relationship you have with God. In my case, I initially thought God was absent; however, that was not true. God was there, and had been all along; I was not listening. I was too absorbed in my own life, my home and what I wanted to do.

My first spiritual director was my parish priest. I came to my first appointment full of anger, hurt and sin. Because of my situation, he met with me more frequently than under normal circumstances. But eventually, we would meet once a month for an hour. His role was to direct me to the workings of the Holy Spirit in my life. As I would learn, prayer would become essential for me to move forward.

In spiritual direction, I was looking at my relationship with Christ. This was most helpful to me for I wanted to dwell on what I saw as “character flaws” in my husband. There was no need for that. I had my own character flaws to deal with and I spent time in direction learning how to change myself. I learned how to deepen my relationship with Christ. I would learn how to be humble and patient — characteristics of Christ, not me — which took a spiritually mature person to teach me.

After many months in direction, my parish priest was transferred to a new city and a new parish. By this time, I knew spiritual direction was mandatory for me if I was to grow spiritually through my loss. I had grown to love the peace which came with prayer and silence — something my priest encouraged for me.

My second spiritual director, and the one I still see today, is a woman in my parish trained in spiritual mentorship. I have met with her monthly for over three years now. She has maneuvered with me through my life experiences of the death of my mother, the end of my marriage and a bout with cancer. Her gentle guidance, and sometimes rebuke, has been indescribable because it has brought peace to my life.

I will admit, we’ve had some tough topics to conquer — forgiveness, honesty, and taking a look at that “wooden beam in my own eyes” (Matthew 7:3). My spiritual director is good for me because she points me to the truth. Without her guidance and prayer, I hesitate to think where my life in Christ might be. I envision I would be stuck under that muddy tire.

My life today is not what I had dreamed, but it is “my life” in Christ. Without spiritual direction, I feel I could have become a bitter, old lady. Instead, I am a woman seeking the heart of Christ, a woman with compassion for others who are hurting. The road is not always smooth, but what does Christ tell us? How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life (Matthew 7:14).

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What to do With the Ring?

What do you do with your engagement ring if your marriage ends in divorce? Do you keep the ring and have it fashioned into a trendy necklace? Do you save the ring for one of your children? Do you sell the diamond and pay off some of your bills? 

I’ve had this on my mind lately since my divorce was finalized in April. My ex-husband had given me the ring atop the massive ferris wheel at the Texas State Fair. It was a delightful event and one my ex said he had put much thought into. We were suspended in air and time stopped for jusdiamond ringt a few moments while he proposed. He had even called my father and asked for my hand in marriage before he asked me to marry him.

I thought the proposal was an original idea and I thought the diamond was beautiful; however, our marriage did not last. The ring stayed on my finger for 21 years. Those years were packed with memories that I decided I could not hang around my neck. I decided I did not want to save the ring for one of my two daughters. Anyway, which daughter would I chose to give the tainted diamond to? 

So I decided to meet with a diamond broker to inquire about selling the ring. The dollar amount he was going to give me in exchange for the ring insulted me. The buyout was well below what my ex had paid 25 years earlier. Honestly, my pride was hurt. That ring had deep meaning for me and no amount of money could replace what it stood for.

And so I spent many hours thinking, praying and pondering my decision … I returned the ring to my ex-husband. I took the noble route and it felt good. The ring had once been a sign of our marriage and our fidelity. It no longer served that purpose. No other piece of jewelry — whether re-shaped or made into a necklace — would erase the pain of my divorce. I think I made a good decision.

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Silence on Retreat

I recently attended a 7-day spirituality retreat offered through the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas. The week was filled with study, prayer, daily Mass, spiritual direction, a movie and many meals. There were 100 other men and women from around the United States on this retreat with me. The priests and sisters from the Apostles of the Interior Life, the archdiocese School of Faith team and the Holy Spirit lead us during the week.

Day 6 was a day of silence. No talking! During that day, I wrote these thoughts as I was reflecting on what had occurred while on retreat. I will share my insights with you.


 

Now, I come to a place of rest. A day of silence. A time and space to sit and reflect with Our Lord on what has transpired in me. It is starting to sink in that God is asking me to be an instrument of His love. He is calling me to continue loving His Son and allowing His Son to love me so I can love others. The emotions are real, they are deep and, as is typical for me, there are tears.

Mark 6:30-32 The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”

I’ve tried to meet each person attending this session. This is the third time in a year we’ve been together for a 7-day stretch. I’m sure I’ve not met everyone, but each person I’ve met has touched me in a different way. What amazes me about this process is how the Holy Spirit takes my first impression and shows me how I am judgmental. When I am allowed to sit and get to know one of God’s children on a personal level, all of my first impressions are proven wrong.

We have studied the lost art of having meaningful conversations this week. There is no small talk about the weather, our clothing or our children. We are asked to go to that next level of deeper conversation. During this time, a friend disclosed her marriage problems. She knows of my divorce and that God has provided strength. I am able to assure her that God hears prayer and he works for our good.

At breakfast, a man discussed the reality of his life. “How have you handled your wife living in a nursing home and being left to raise your 6 children?” I asked him. My heart softens as I hear him tell me how all 6 of his children do their own laundry. I discover the strength God has given him to endure. Before he spoke, however, I only saw his round, soft belly, his bald head and the t-shirt he was wearing. But through his words of courage, I saw his heart. Jesus shows me how much He loves this man.

During one of my daily breaks, I checked my emails. I had an email from my family practice doctor. A recent CAT revealed several cysts on my kidney. The doctor tells me I need to go see a nephrologist. My health issues continue and I’m determined my suffering will not be wasted. I believe in redemptive suffering.

It was a wonderful week. The great “take away” for me is the importance of silence. If I allow no time in my day to silently reflect, how can I know which way God is leading me? How can I hear his voice? How can I rest? I’m convinced silence is a must in my life.

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That Hair Thing

Three years ago I shaved my head. It wasn’t for shock value; I had cancer. I had made the decision to shave my head before the chemo drugs made it fall out. I didn’t want to lose clumps of hair around the house. That was the method my mom chose when she had chemo. I wanted to face baldness straight on.

My oncologist had told me to expect my hair to begin falling out around day 18 after my first chemo treatment. I counted each day diligently until I arrived at day 18. I knew it was coming. What anticipation I had to “dare” my hair to fall out. “I’ll be the lucky one and not lose one hair,” I thought foolishly to myself.

Sure enough it happened. Day 18 in the shower, a clump came out. Darn. That evening, I planned to shave it all off. I needed the support of my daughters to be in the home with me. I could not do this alone. I would use the grooming kit we had bought for our two Shih Tzus.

I’ll never forget the feeling of taking that first swipe across my head. I was full of emotion. I thought of Britney Spears and how 5 years earlier she had shaved her head. This was different. Either I would shave my head or let chemo have its way. I wanted to win and just be in control of something.

My hair had been my glory. For years, stylists had commented on how thick my hair was or how much hair I had. It was one of my finest features. I spent hundreds of dollars keeping it coifed and colored. Let’s face it. My hair was a hobby.

God knew I needed a little humility. I was vain about my hair. I needed a reality check so I could have compassion. I needed a reason to turn to God and acknowledge He was in control of my life. I needed poverty of spirit to detach from this crown of glory.

Being bald in the winter time in Kansas humbled me. Being bald also screamed to the world “I have cancer.” Being bald was a good lesson for me. It forced me to face my own mortality and my vanity. It gave me compassion. It helped me realize it’s what’s inside my heart that counts; not what’s on my head.

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This is me with my friend Amy on the day she had her head shaved. We were both undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer.

I went proudly to the rest of my chemo treatments as a bald patient. We were all bald together and it was affirming to be in unity with other cancer patients. We were getting chemo so we could have a chance to survive. Our hair was the least of our worries.

In the end, it was an honor to be bald and not have a covering for my head. I learned to be more transparent and not hide behind my hair. The time with no hair was transforming for me. It put things in perspective especially when a friend asked me to join her when she shaved her head. I understood.

1 Corinthians 11:15 “but if a woman has long hair, it is a glory to her? For her hair is given to her for a covering.”

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The 1st Thanksgiving

This was my 4th Thanksgiving as a single, separated (not yet divorced) mother. I’ll admit, it’s become much easier. This year, my heart was drawn to all of my friends and relatives who are single. The holiday season can be a time of loneliness. I chose to keep my mind focused on those who were single or widowed and pray for them throughout my day. This brought me peace.

This year was much different from my first Thanksgiving as a separated mother. My first year apart from my daughters was a shock. It wpumpkin-704626_1280as 2012 and I had been diagnosed with breast cancer on October 29th. My plans had been to be in Florida with my family and extended family. We had planned a beach-front Thanksgiving vacation six months in advance. Instead of the beach, I found myself alone in Little Rock with breast
cancer. Devastation.

It appeared God was playing the cruelest of jokes on me. I had discovered an unfaithful husband and Stage 2 breast cancer a month earlier. It didn’t seem real to me and it didn’t seem like my life. Up until that point, I had not suffered an illness or a loss of that magnitude. But, I would soon discover, God showed up for me everywhere I turned.

The first place I discovered God that Thanksgiving was in my father. He had buried my mom just four months earlier in July 2012. My parents had been married 51 years when my mom died of cancer. She had struggled for 8 years with what began as colon cancer. Had it not been for my circumstances, my dad would have been left at home alone for his first Thanksgiving without his wife. I was so grateful to be with him. How could I possibly mope around all weekend when my father was grieving?

On Thanksgiving morning, the two of us went to Mass. The priest reminded us to be thankful. I had to dig deep into my heart to be thankful for anything. I soon discovered I was truly thankful I had a father who was still alive and could sit with me in worship. I was thankful I had three brothers who I could depend on to help me. I was thankful I was alive and the cancer was treatable.

The second place I discovered God was at a wedding. My father and I attended a Saturday evening wedding that weekend. The groom was one of my dad’s golfing buddies. I witnessed two senior citizens giddy with love. Their love offered me hope. I realized that sad times had preceded this wedding because both bride and groom had lost their first spouses. There was a moment in the wedding where the priest remembered both of their former spouses. Tears were shed.

The groom’s daughter, who I met for the first time at the wedding, was a breast cancer survivor. She shared her story with me at the reception and filled me with confidence. I knew that I could go back home and tackle my cancer. It was as if God had placed me at that wedding to show me He had plans for me. I just needed to trust Him because He had my back.

Yes, this Thanksgiving was much easier and time has helped heal my wounds. But more than time, the family God gave me has helped me heal. I have a father and three brothers who I love. I also have a heavenly Father and many brothers and sisters in Christ who sustain me in my weakness and loneliness. God has proven himself over and over to me these last 4 Thanksgiving holidays.

My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.
2 Corinthians 12:9

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I Was Kissed

Another roadblock occurred this week. It’s all in the details of property and money. My obstinate personalityjesus-crucified is not letting me give up. So here I am again — no decision, no divorce. It will be well into 2016 before this all gets settled.

I feel as though I’m being cast aside and not being heard. I’m nearing 54 years of age and I have no career to bring me into retirement. It is difficult to re-enter the workforce after being a stay-at-home mom for 15 years. Sure, I can find hourly jobs all day long, and I have found them, but they offer no retirement benefits or health insurance.

This is my life right now. Living in a sort of limbo. Three years & 38 days. It is a place of confinement because I am married, but not really. It is a place God is allowing me to live and so it’s ok that I’m here. And I’ve found a new best friend in this place – Blessed Mother Teresa. She is the 3rd “Teresa” who has befriended me on this journey. Her predecessors were Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux.

My interest in Mother Teresa began last May. Sr. Marie Hesed introduced me to Mother Teresa. Sr. Marie is one of the women in my spiritual mentorship program. She had worked side by side with Mother Teresa. She shared with me Mother’s true love for Jesus as she saw with her own two eyes. It’s one thing to know Mother Teresa’s story, but another to hear about it firsthand.

Last Thursday, as I was reading 33 Days to Morning Glory, I learned Pope Francis would canonize Mother Teresa. That day, which was Day 15 of 33 Days, the meditation was about the lover of the Heart of Jesus: Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. It was a “God moment” as we say. The woman I was reading about could be canonized in 2016.

Blessed Mother Teresa knows my pain and my loneliness because she’s been there too. She wrote the following: “suffering, pain, sorrow, humiliation, feelings of loneliness, are nothing but the kiss of Jesus, a sign that you have come so close that he can kiss you.” So, you see, God is using this time to share His Son’s Passion with me. I was kissed.

Mother Teresa’s heart for Mary speaks to me as well. Her writings help me to visualize Mary’s face as she looks upon her crucified son. Mother Teresa’s writings place me at the foot of the cross. From beneath the cross, I look up to heaven and see Christ hanging there for me. I am no longer cast aside. I am loved AND I am kissed.

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Sharing the Moment

I am blessed. October 29th marked the 3rd anniversary of my breast cancer diagnosis. I celebrated at work with a PINK PARTY and shared my story. I’m including this story of HOPE to share God’s faithfulness with you. It is the story of the morning I was diagnosed.

It was a Monday morning as I sat alone in my van in a hospital parking lot. I was in a trance. I reached for my phone to call my mother and tell her the news of my cancer diagnosis. She would no doubt understand this feeling because she had cancer too.

pilgrimage-336615_1280My brain seemed foggy after hearing the word “cancer” at my annual mammogram. I guess when the radiologist walked in, I should’ve known. He wasn’t there to wish me a happy Monday morning. Mama had also heard those same words,“you’ve got cancer.” She will know exactly what to say to me.

I was able to refocus for just a minute and then the thought came to me. Mama is gone. We buried her three months ago. Oh, Lord, who can help me deal with this news? And why are you allowing me to have breast cancer now? I just lost my mom and my husband and I are separated. He had moved out of our home 14 days earlier.

I looked at the clock on my dashboard. Time hadn’t moved. I had an appointment at church in 30 minutes. Do I call and say, “I can’t make it today. I’ve got cancer.” Or I could say, “I can’t make my appointment. I’m separated.” That sounded weird. The cancer thing was a better excuse.

I thought quickly about calling my dad, but I couldn’t bear to give him this news. He was grieving. He had, after all, just buried his wife of 51 years a few months earlier. I knew calling him would be selfish on my part. God gave me clarity in the moment.

The longer I sat in my van, my brain became fuzzier. I didn’t know God let people have lives like this. I felt as though I was staring into black space. I was so alone in that van with no one to call. The pain I felt in my heart was indescribable. Tears poured down my face and I did not know what to do.

My mind bounced back to the church meeting.  I better go because I had only been a member for a month. I wanted to make a good first impression. For all I knew, I might need to use the church for my funeral. I better go and introduce myself.

I turned the key and started the ignition. I put my van in drive and made my way out of the parking lot. Now my mind was wondering why I had chosen this specific time to have a church meeting. The 15-minute drive would have to be on auto pilot. I was in a daze.

As I entered the church office, I could barely think about my reason for being there. “I’m here to meet with Kathleen,” I told the receptionist. There wasn’t time for small talk. I wondered if my mascara had smeared down my face.

Kathleen escorted me back to her office. I sat down on her couch and looked into her eyes. Silence. Then, I burst into tears. “I’ve just been diagnosed with cancer,” I wept. I barely knew Kathleen, but it didn’t matter. She was the first person I encountered after hearing of my fate. She was the person God had placed before me at the biggest crisis of my life. Grief, divorce and cancer all coming at me at once.

Kathleen’s response seemed unbelievable to me. “I’m a breast cancer survivor. I can help you.” I began sobbing. I collapsed into her arms as she hugged me. This hug was the hug from my mother. God had put the perfect person in front of me. What grace. He was faithful and He was going to take care of me. My journey had just begun.


My grace is sufficient for you,

for power is made perfect in weakness.

2 Corinthians 12:9

 

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Pink Threads

As I sit and write this morning, a friend of mine is living her last days. I would barely call it living, as she is unconscious as her body is shutting down. She is home with family and friends and hospice is helping keep her comfortable. Breast cancer spread to her bones and brain.

pink threadsThis special friend lives in my former neighborhood and we met about 5 years ago. She was diagnosed three months before I was in 2012 and we often compared notes about our treatment. I remember a walk we took in 2013, when we were both bald. We didn’t have to talk much, but I remember doing a lot of laughing. It was freezing that day and we understood the real purpose of hair: warmth.

I’m going to miss this friend so much, but will always remember her encouragement. She rallied for 5 months after being told she had one week to live. I believe God was encouraging her to live life until He decided she had one week to live.

I noticed after my diagnosis, God placed women in my life who I needed to know. These women were and still are great gifts to me. They are like pink threads connecting me to the world. My former neighbor was an encouragement even though she was struggling more than me. She connected me to being happy no matter my circumstance in life.

Another special friend, who happens to be my boss, decided to host a “Breast Cancer Awareness Day” at work. She asked me to speak about my experience and how having annual mammograms was vitally important. Subsequently, she went to her annual mammogram and was diagnosed with Stage 2 cancer. What a shock for us all.

My boss connected me to perseverance. Her company was in its infancy and she worked even though it was difficult. I’ve rarely seen anyone as steadfast. Her passion has become her business and she owns a day service for special needs adults. She is planning this year’s “Breast Cancer Awareness Day” for tomorrow and, providentially, that’s my 3rd anniversary of being diagnosed.

The third woman who has made an impact on me is an acquaintance from Lenexa. She holds a full-time job and is councilwoman. This woman has taught me about love. Amidst the rigors of breast cancer treatment such as multiple surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, this friend has found true love. She is single and decided breast cancer would not interfere with her search for a soul mate. Her vulnerability led her to a warm, charming boyfriend.

These friends, these pink threads that have helped me make my way through cancer, are invaluable. God’s Providence put them in my path and He has tied us together with the color PINK. Thank you, Lord, for your grace and mercy. Thank you for the PINK threads in my life.

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At A Crossroads

Being at a crossroads is a point at which a significant decision must be made that will have far-reaching consequences. My mother’s death in 2012 was a true crossroads for me. Being with her as she took her last breath, and seeing what became of her body and soul, left me with many decisions to make. I knew these decisions were serious, but I had no idea how far reaching they would extend.

The first decision I had to make was about my faith. For most of my marriage, I had succumbed to the idea of not practicing the faith I chose. My desire was to maintain peace in my family and my husband chose our faith. I went along with him. My family attended church every weekend, but I was not fulfilled in this plan. I was not growing spiritually. 

The second decision I had to make was about my marriage. I had been married 20 years at the point of my mother’s death. The circumstances of her battle with cancer showed me a side of my husband I had not seen before. There were some red flags I was seeing. In the chaos of life, I had not taken time to examine or work on my marriage. This had to be addressed.

The third decision I had to make was about my own happiness. I was unhappy with my life. On the outside, I had it all, but on the inside, I was empty. The golf-course home we lived in did not fulfill my needs. My two beautiful daughters did not fulfill my needs. My job did not fulfill my needs. What was I going to do to restore happiness to my life? It was up to me.

The earth-shattering experience of seeing my mom breathe her last breath hit me like a sharp slap in the face. Wake up! Do you want to be on “auto pilot” the rest of your time on earth? God was speaking to me in a rough voice and I knew I needed to listen. 

The 7-hour ride home to Kansas after my mother’s buriel was awakening. God’s graces poured out and I knew some serious work was in store for me. I vowed to dig deep, uncover this pain and find out why my life was looking this way. Why was I feeling this way? What was going on in my marriage? 

The next three years were excruciatingly difficult for me as I examined my issues. The end result? I am now a practicing Catholic and in training to become a spiritual mentor. I am in the process of getting a divorce. I am a writer. My two daughters are the joy of my life, but they are not responsible for my happiness.

Jesus Christ has become my focus and He is the source of all my joy. And in the middle of all this change…I was diagnosed with breast cancer and will be celebrating 3 years of being cancer free on October 29, 2015. As for my beautiful home: it was sold and I currently live in a 2-bedroom apartment with my youngest daughter.

Christ called me at a crossroads. I’m forever grateful I answered His call.

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Being A Cheer Mom

I’ll admit, being a Cheer Mom was never on my radar. I loathe those overly zealous moms who live their life vicariously through their daughters. You know those moms…the ones on the television program Cheer Perfection. Those moms who are obsessed with every aspect of their daughter’s life. The moms who gossip about the “other” girls. You know who I’m talking about.

My youngest daughter Julie had spent 9 years in gymnastics and I thought she wanted to be a gymnast in college. Nope. That’s not how it worked. She came home from school one afternoon and very confidentially told me she would no longer be a gymnast. She was going to cheer from that day forward. She had already picked out the cheer gym, she knew their phone number and she asked me to call them…that day!

I took her seriously and made the call to KC Cheer. We set up a time to go in for an interview with the owner and have a tryout session. She made the team. That was 2 years ago. Her team was undefeated this year and they were awarded a fully-paid bid to an event called The Summit.

The Summit (the highest level of U.S. Cheer competition) was held in Orlando, FL. We returned home just 10 days ago. We had a wonderful time, the weather was beautiful and we even had time to visit Walt Disney World. But we were there to compete and win!

My daughter’s team, called FAME, would be the 2nd team to perform on the morning of May 1. There were roughly 26 other teams in their division. But there were thousands of cheerleaders at this event. I could see Julie was obviously stressed. Her team had worked so hard for a year preparing for this one chance to be 1st in the nation in their division.

That morning around 8:30 am, the team enthusiastically ran out from behind the stage to perform their routine. They were pumped and all had smiles on their faces. Ready. Set. Go. The routine was flawless UNTIL the music stopped half-way into the performance. This group of 27 girls did not know how to react. Had someone been injured? The music never just stops. They kept performing until their coach yelled for them to stop.

There had been a technical malfunction with the music. After the equipment was checked out, the girls were told to start over at the beginning. It was too late. Their minds had been interrupted and they were all visibly shaken. Sometimes there is no next time, no second chance. This was their life lesson to be learned the hard way. They did perform; however, they were not focused as well and could not pull it off. When the performance ended, several girls on the team walked off sobbing. 

It was hard for me to watch and see the dismay in everyone’s faces. The team had practiced for a whole year and had made it to the top, but in a single moment, everything changed. It was heartbreaking to see the team and the coaches accept what had happened. This day and this event showed me that being a Cheer Mom is really about helping my daughter learn life’s lessons. Sometimes, we just don’t get a second chance.

In the end, FAME placed 14th in the nation in the large junior division. What an accomplishment to even be invited to The Summit. I think that is the memory that will be with every team member. It’s not that the music messed them up, it’s that they were there!