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.

Prayer Before Surgery

doctor-650548_1280I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer three months after my mom died of cancer. My sense of urgency to remove the cancer was enormous. Terrified, I consulted with my family practice doctor a few hours after my mammogram. I was going to need help navigating my way through the maze of doctors and treatments I would need.

“Seek first the kingdom of God” ran through my mind. I had memorized the words to Matthew 6:33 years ago in Bible study. I prayed, quietly asking God to take care of me. Then I called a few close friends who I knew were particularly close to God. They had strong prayer lives so I asked them to begin praying for me. Ironically, I had just called on them two weeks earlier with the news of my impending divorce.

The day following the mammogram, my friend drove me to a surgeon’s office to have a needle biopsy. Before we began our 30-minute trip to midtown, she asked if she could pray for me. Absolutely. My friend prayed out loud asking God to work out the details of my illness and keep me at peace. As she drove, I was unbelieving of my fate. I went into the doctor’s office and had the biopsy. With the exception of needing more lidocaine, the procedure was flawless.

For the next two weeks, I desperately discussed my surgical options with four different surgeons. I had invasive lobular carcinoma and would need a bilateral mastectomy and hysterectomy. I needed to find a team of three surgeons. My general surgeon (who had performed the biopsy) called five plastic surgeons in the area. They were booked. It was, after all, the holiday season. I continued to pray, my friends prayed and I made a plea for prayer through my CaringBridge journal.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:33

I became a “nurse navigator” frantically trying to coordinate three surgeons’ schedules. I needed a general breast surgeon, a plastic surgeon and a gynecological surgeon. They needed to be available in one hospital, in one operating room in one afternoon. I learned not all doctors had surgical privileges in the same hospitals. I began to think I was asking for a small miracle, but I continued to pray.

By now, prayer had taken on a different meaning for me. It was no longer a quick request I threw God’s way. God was becoming my friend, my advisor, my counselor. I would have lengthy conversations with Him. I talked and then I listened. I quit watching television to make more time to hear Him. I knew my life depended on His answers and I knew He wanted to help me. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

Around the third week of November, I was in despair. I could not find a plastic surgeon to team up with my general surgeon. Breast augmentation surgery was taking precedence over removing my cancer. This was a busy time of year when plastic surgeons were typically booked months, even years, in advance. Besides, cosmetic surgery cases paid cash.

God heard my pleas. The teaching director from my Bible Study had read my CaringBridge post. She called me on a Saturday morning to see if she could help. This connection would change the course of the rest of my time with cancer. Not only had she gone through breast cancer herself, but her husband was an oncologist. I felt elated as if God had placed me in that Bible study class years ago for this very reason.

After discussing my dilemma, I changed my course of action. It was obvious I would need to choose another surgeon and another hospital. I had just needed to hear those words spoken out loud. This phone call had been my gift. It was my wake-up call. And it had been orchestrated by God.

By the next week, I had scheduled all my surgeons. Every detail was covered with precision. More answered prayers. I knew God was not responsible for my cancer, but He was making things happen so He could take care of me. Even the timing of my annual mammogram had been helpful. If the appointment had been a few months earlier, it would have overlapped my mother’s time in hospice.

In the end, I was confident in the team of doctors God had prepared for me. I was humbled with their expert knowledge and skill of performing the surgery. God had been faithful even in the details of the surgeons’ schedules. My radiation oncologist referred to the timing of it all as a “small miracle”. The procedure took place on December 18, 2012 and lasted 5 1/2 hours.