Future of Hope

“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe! plans to give you a future full of hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

I find myself thinking this morning, “Well, it took you long enough!”

And then murmuring, “Thank you, Lord. Thank you.”

These days I feel as though I am living on the cusp of a miracle. I wrote my daughter yesterday that I haven’t been this excited about the future since I was pregnant — and my youngest turns 31 in September. That’s a long time.

But the promise of a future of hope came more recently than that — in December 2009 to be exact. I was editing a small weekly newspaper and feeling a little overwhelmed. Not only did I have all of the usual stuff to do — reporting on community events, heading out with my faithful digital for photo ops, editing everything else submitted for publication, enhancing photos digitally so they’d look crisp and clear in print, and attempting to be welcoming to anyone who happened to wander into my office when I was on deadline — I also had Christmas ad sales to squeeze in.

On top of that, staff problems were tying my stomach in knots. A gal who had worked for the company for years, and hadn’t managed to have a good working relationship with anyone in my office but had inexplicably charmed the publisher into thinking she was a real treasure (I didn’t ask how), was in one of her moods. This involved a little sport I called “editor baiting.” She would do everything she could to provoke me into losing my temper. The longer I resisted, the more creative and malicious her behavior became until she succeeded. Then, she’d run like an injured six-year-old child to the publisher and cry about my outburst. She always managed to leave out the details regarding her conduct.

The baiting had just begun, and I knew I had some rough days ahead. My usual approach was to be in the office as little as possible on those days when she worked. However, since I had to call businesses to see whether they intended to place Christmas ads, escaping wasn’t going to be an option. A sense of hopelessness had begun to wrap itself around me.

I loved my job — the relationships I’d built with people in the community, the way elementary school children would come running when I showed up because they wanted hugs from “the picture lady,” the way I was able to use the newspaper to strengthen people’s pride in their community by focusing on the wonderful things happening. I loved the house I’d found there — the sun-drenched rooms, the hardwood floors, the walls painted to showcase my art collection. I loved being surrounded by friends — the dinners over which we talked about art and faith, the laughter-filled shopping trips, the way in which even a trip to the grocery store involved warm welcomes.

So much good. So much beauty. But my stomach was tied in knots because of a work situation I could not rectify and that threw a pall over everything else. I did what I always do in situations like that, when nothing I can do will alter that which is adversely affecting my life — turned to God in prayer.

Our parish priest had given away Advent devotionals the previous Sunday after Mass. When I paged through it that morning as I sat down for a chat with the Lord, I came across a prayer for hope. It began with a beautiful poem by Sister Genevieve Glen, a Benedictine nun at the Abbey of St. Walburga in Colorado. That led to a beautiful responsorial version of Psalm 42: “Athrist is my soul for the living God”(v.3).

And then, God whispered in my ear. No, I didn’t experience auditory hallucinations. I didn’t actually hear anything. Rather, I had the sense of having just heard something — as though a friend had spoken to me and I was reflecting on the words before responding. I was struck with awe and wonder.

I was familiar with the passage I read following the psalm — Jeremiah 29:11-14. It was not new to me, but never before when reading the passage had I felt God speaking to me personally. Rather, I thought of a more generic blessing, of a distant, heavenly Father making the Sign of the Cross over the masses. This time, it seemed as though I had heard the words as a personal promise.

This, Mary, this is for you. Remember it. Hold on to it. Trust me to bring this to fruition in your life.

I wanted to believe that God made a personal promise to me. I wanted to believe the hopelessness that threatened to take the joy out of my Christmas preparations would lift and all would be well. I started carrying the devotional with me. Every time I had to warm up my truck to go somewhere, I would pull out the devotional, turn to the prayer of hope and lift my petition to God while the defroster cleared my windshield and all the engine parts became warm and willing.

Advent passed and Christmas. Another year with its work-dynamic roller coaster. And another. I hadn’t forgotten the promise, though I did fail to see how God had fulfilled it in my life. In the spring of 2011, I discovered the publisher had decided to replace me and I accepted a different job. I discovered fairly quickly that I was not a good match for the new organization, and left it within a matter of months. A period of unemployment led to a period of underemployment.

I never forgot that Advent prayer experience — it was limned in wonder, even in memory — but over time my capacity for mental gymnastics had transformed it. God hadn’t really made me a promise. I was just emotionally vulnerable that morning and imagined an intimate prayer experience. And, that alone helped me through some rough times. That’s what I’d begun to tell myself.

But now, I suspect I was just impatient. The other morning, just before waking, I dreamed people were telling me I was pregnant. “How can this be?” I asked each one, as I encountered them. “I’m losing weight; my pants are baggy; how can you believe I am pregnant?” That morning, as I sat down to my devotions, I read, “the angel of God appeared to Joseph in a dream” (Matt. 2:13), and that evening, as I picked up a book of poetry — Risking Everything, edited by Roger Housden — it opened to “On Angels” by Czeslaw Milosz. “I have heard that voice many a time when asleep / and, what is strange, I understood more or less / an order or an appeal in an unearthly tongue.”

I knew then that my dream had been the voice of an angel, telling me God’s promise — the future of hope — was coming to fruition. I’d been excited about the move I’m about to make prior to that, but now — the joy of anticipation almost overwhelms me at times. I am living on the cusp of a miracle and know it with each breath.

Thank you, Lord. Thank you.

Ladybugs and Home

I haven’t finished the scrapbook page yet, though I’ve purchased the materials — including ladybug buttons from which I’ll cut the shanks so they lay flat. Truthfully, beyond selecting the pictures and purchasing the materials, I haven’t even started the page.

But, I will. Someday. I have to so that my granddaughter knows how young she was when she started to read.

OK, I’m exaggerating; she wasn’t exactly reading. Paige, at the age of 16 months, had simply made the connection between the written word and the spoken word, and I was dazzled by her brilliance. She had just learned to say the word “home,” and would flip through the pages of “Five Little Ladybugs” until she reached the last page, slap both of her small hands down on the page and say, very proudly, “Home.”

Now, at the age of nearly three, she knows and recognizes all of the letters of the alphabet and can spell a whole variety of words. Using blocks or magnetic letters, both she and her twin sister can spell their names as well. I am inordinately proud of them, but the memory of Paige reading her first book is especially dear to me.

I’ve been thinking of that off and on all day as I continue dismantling my home. Already the studio and office are almost done. Most of my library is also packed, though a goodly share of the books are in bags for the library. Since I was given an e-reader for my birthday last year, books have lost their allure. Besides, they’re so incredibly heavy to move.

Most of the photographs have also come off the walls, though the paintings remain. They’re the first thing up and the last thing down when I move. I still need to tackle my kitchen and scrapbook supplies. Then, I’m done until the day before I move when I’ll pack up my toiletries, clothes and the kitchen implements I’ve kept out to use.

How quickly a home can become impersonal space! Far more quickly than rented space can become a home.

I hadn’t seen my current apartment prior to moving into it. In fact, I was in another state when I rented it. I’d been hired for job and then swept into the grand adventure of helping my daughter move with the twins. While immersed in that, my youngest viewed apartments for me so I could move when I returned from that trip.

Leaving the house I’d rented for several years was difficult for me. It was a bit of a mess when I’d moved into it, though a lot of elbow grease had transformed it into my dream home. I’d scrubbed the accumulated spatters of numerous paint jobs from the beautiful woodwork and applied fresh coats of paint to the walls — in colors selected to showcase my art collection. I’d created spaces that were compatible with my lifestyle — having for the first time room enough to do so. I would have stayed there forever if work hadn’t carried me away.

When I walked into my current apartment, my heart sunk. My daughter had told me she could see me in this apartment; that’s why I rented it. But the stove was obviously old — the harvest gold enamel revealed that. The walls were darkly paneled and the floor carpeted with bland grey indoor/outdoor indoor/outdoor carpet. But it was spacious and sunlit. I could make it work, I told myself.

And I did, though it was a trial and error adventure. Eventually, the dining area was transformed into an office and the second bedroom into a studio. I learned to ignore the godawful window dressings the lease stated were to be used and to have a sense of humor about the stove’s idiosyncrasies. At this point, I’m not sure I remember what it’s like to use an oven that actually works consistently. What if I could bake pumpkin bread without worrying that it might burn or stick in a casserole without wondering if it would be fully cooked when the timer went off?

But, I think the sense of home came as much from the shelter it provided during the emotional storms of the past couple years as from the decor. When a former employer thought it was appropriate to treat me like a piece of furniture, rather than a person with my own needs and desires, this is where I came to cry. And, when I returned from working at a convenience store nearly crippled by pain from standing on my feet for nine or 10 consecutive hours without a break, and from moving cases of beer and pop, this is where I took refuge in hot showers and cold beer.

When my front door was closed, I could put aside everything that threatened my internal equilibrium. I could pick up a book and read, or grab a brush and work on another in my series paintings. I could put my feet up in the recliner with a pillow under my knees and watch a movie that made me laugh away the knot in the pit of my stomach. I could sit down to prayer, lighting a candle and opening my Bible.

In this place, I was simply myself, not what anyone else expected of me. Myself.

And that’s what a home is — whether we live alone, with friends, family or lovers. Home is a place in which we can be ourselves. It’s going to be a challenge to live for a time as a guest in someone else’s home. It’s going to be a challenge, but when we turn the pages of our lives, we must expect challenges — those wonderful, glorious opportunites to make new connections, just as my Paige did when she was learning to read.

And just as her new connection was the beginning of a whole new world for her, I fully expect mine to be as well. After all, her example is too dazzling not to follow.

But, first I have to finish the packing.

Saving Grace

I took a break from packing this afternoon to paint.

On a good day, packing does not rank among my top ten favorite activities. On a bad day, well … I just need to walk away. I reached that point this afternoon when I ran out of garbage bags and boxes. I suppose I could have gone out to scrounge some up, but my intuition suggested I needed time to think.

How much am I willing to trash if need be? The crafting supplies from those years when I began making Christmas ornaments in July so I could enclose them in cards when the holiday rolled around? What about the frames I picked up on a clearance table 15 years ago and never used? And the scrapbook supplies I can’t even remember liking?

So much is still usable. Shouldn’t someone be willing to take it off my hands? Something inside rebels against just throwing it all away. I’ve worked hard for every dime I’ve earned and spent; throwing things away feels wrong. Wasteful. And yet, why move what I will in all likelihood never use? That’s not a dilemma for which a resolution was easily forthcoming.

So I picked up a painting I had finished earlier this year, “grace.” Over all, it was a bland painting, but one section of it pleased me. The color was used in a sensuous manner and the brushstrokes were spontaneous and loose. But, was that section strong enough to carry the painting?

When I hung it beside other paintings in the series, my first impulse was to take it down. However, each time I pulled it out of storage, I was again drawn to the area that pleased me. Last night, when I was looking at it yet again, a simple thought ran through my head: why don’t you work on it again and see what happens?

And so, that’s what I did. I added some geometric and collage elements. I deepened the color in a few areas with glazes. In just a couple hours, the bland painting was transformed into a visual feast, and I was struck with wonder because the process had been entirely intuitive. I hadn’t planned a single one of the elements which had given it life.

As I gazed at it later, I found myself recalling something I’ve read a several times in recent months. In her book, “Following the Path: The Search for a Life of Passion, Purpose and Joy,” Sister Joan Chittister wrote, “The problem is that people who are unusually gifted in something often tend to take it for granted. They got it without effort, after all, so everyone else must have it, too, right? In fact, they are often inclined not only to discount the gift itself as commonplace or even worthless but to doubt their own abilities in anything else.”

I’ve been stuck on that chapter because I found myself asking, “At what am I gifted?” Her premise is that each of us is gifted in some way at something. That premise probably comes with the territory — being religious, she undoubtedly believes we’re created in the image of a gifted God. Still, that doesn’t make the premise invalid.

Painting brought the question to mind again because it reminded me of those days when I attended art receptions and considered artists to be among my coterie of friends. I was often moved to wonder by their work, and was articulate in expressing my admiration, but quick to toss aside any praise that came my way. I’m not sure why I thought my work was included in juried exhibits, not only at local art centers, but also elsewhere when I had the funds to enter competitions and ship the work. I’m not sure why I thought my work was being purchased for corporate collections. I just knew that my paintings weren’t extraordinary in any way — not like the work that my friends were producing.

And yet, when I started painting again last fall, I was often frustrated because the small pieces I was struggling to create did not begin to compare to work that I did nearly two decades ago. Not only did I no longer have the intuitive color sense which once characterized my work, but I had also lost the delicacy of touch when it came to brushwork. About the only thing I could still do was mix paint from the tube with gel or gloss medium so that it was easier to handle.

As I struggled to regain my skills, I was often amused to find myself looking with pleasure at my earlier work, which lines my walls as though I lived in a gallery. I was often amused to find myself amazed at my skill in portraiture and at the unique ways in which I handled materials. In other words, more than a decade after my last exhibit, I was finally beginning to appreciate my own work. Brava! Brava!

I find myself asking, was I discounting a gift in failing to appreciate my own work earlier? I used to say painting kept me sane, because no matter what was happening in my life, I could lose myself in art. I could stand at the easel and forget everything except the work. When I emerged from that sacred space, I was better able to shoulder the burdens that challenged me in life.

Sr. Joan wrote, “one of the unfailing ways to identify our own gifts is to begin to notice what it is that moves us into an emotional zone beyond consciousness of time.” If this is true, then perhaps I am somewhat gifted at art — but it would also mean I’m gifted at other things as well. Writing and problem-solving come readily to mind.

What does this have to do with moving and decision-making? Maybe nothing. But maybe it means I need to let go of those parts of my past that I’ve been carrying around for years. And if I have to throw them away, maybe it’s not so much a waste as a symbollic gesture, one that says, “I’m open to what the future will bring. I’m ready to discover how to use the gifts that I have been discounting.”

Maybe I need to read the rest of Sr. Joan’s book to find out what comes next. It may turn out to be a saving grace in my life.

Naked

“Who told you that you were naked?” (Genesis 3:11)

I’ve been meditating on Genesis 3 this week as part of the Ignatian Prayer Adventure (found at Ignatianspirituality.com), an online retreat I started earlier this year. I intended to make the retreat as part of my Lenten journey, but work in the form of an erratic and exhausting schedule got in the way. I set the retreat aside with regret, hoping I would get back to it.

And last week, I did — get back to it, that is. I began the Third Week. The focus is our sinfulness. “We look closely at sin and how it plays out in every human heart. Our aim is not to become mired in guilt, self-hate or despair. Instead, we ask for a healthy sense of shame and confusion when confronting the reality of sin,” Kevin O’Brien, SJ, writes in the introduction.

I had been hoping for a more cheerful topic, since depression has made a mess of my life yet again. However, I decided to stick with it even though I was not looking forward to reflecting on my sinfulness. I know from experience that depression can be a powerful distorting lens and I feared I might become — to use Father O’Brien’s phrase — “mired in guilt, self-hate or despair.” Instead, I’ve found comfort.

Comfort in reflecting on my sinfulness? No, comfort in reflecting on the Word of God.

The third chapter of Genesis starts with the infamous scene of the serpent tempting Eve. Eve apparently accepted the status quo until the serpent raised a few questions, and then she reconsidered the matter. She “saw that the tree was good for food,” (animals must have been enjoying the fruit without negative consequences) “pleasing to the eyes, and desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it” (v.6).

Theologically, this is about free will and obedience. I know this, but I found myself filled with compassion for Eve. We are created in God’s image — and this God in whose image Eve was created wasn’t a God who was satisfied with the status quo. He’s got a perfectly good void, but He starts fiddling with it. He creates the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1). Then He creates light and separates the light from the darkness (Gen. 1:3-5). He doesn’t stop there, he just keeps fiddling with things, changing things, improving things, creating things. That’s His nature.

And Eve was just like Him — exploring possibilities. There was one big difference between God and Eve, though. Eve was the creature and God was — well, God. And as the creature, Eve could not see beyond her limited understanding; she could not see the consequences of her actions. How often, I found myself thinking, is this pattern seen in my life? How often do I act on my limited understanding and discover that I erred?

I reflected on this overnight before moving on to the next verses. The following morning I was struck by God’s question. Who told you that you were naked? Who told you? It struck me that Adam and Eve looked no different after they ate the fruit than before they ate the fruit. They simply saw themselves differently.

I wrote in my journal, “We can’t bear to stand before God once we see ourselves with the eyes of the world. The eyes of the world change the way we see ourselves. We become ashamed. We stop seeing ourselves as created in God’s image; we stop trusting his perfect care. We see ourselves as naked and vulnerable; we rush to take action to cover ourselves.”

Over and over, in the days which have passed since then, I find myself coming back to the idea that when we see ourselves with the eyes of the world, we see ourselves differently than when we see ourselves as beloved children of God. When we see ourselves with the eyes of the world, then we judge ourselves by the standards of the world and we act in ways to elevate ourselves in the eyes of the world. But, we can’t do that and remain in a healthy relationship with God.

At least, I cannot. I know the gifts that God has given others are different than the gifts He has given me. I know that others are able to immerse themselves in worldly matters and still see, when they look in the mirror, the image of one created in God’s image. God works in them differently than He works in me.

This new understanding of the way in which I am tempted does not exempt me from my obligations in this world, my responsibilities, but it does subtly shift my focus, my emphasis. I must learn to see myself as God sees me, with the gifts and strengths He has given me, and I must learn how to reflect these into the world. For when I do this, when I live as a beloved child of God, created in his image and use the gifts He has given me, then I will give glory to his name. Whether or not I am doing this will then become the measure of my life — and I won’t feel naked.

I won’t feel vulnerable, because I will be looking at Him and living in him — whole and beloved.

Overdue Compassion

I wasn’t a very good granddaughter. I see this now.

I stopped visiting my grandmother years before she died after she told my oldest daughter — who was five at the time — that she wouldn’t amount to anything because she was just like her mother. But I had lost patience with Gramma years before that final visit in September 1984. When I visited her, Gramma would sit around and say over and over, “I wish I were dead. I wish I were dead.”

At the time, this felt like personal rejection. I wanted her to want to live, to want to be part of my life. I finally said to her one day, “If it would make you happy, then I wish you were dead, too.” She probably continued to have those thoughts, but she didn’t express them in front of me.

I have realized within the last couple months that I should have been more compassionate. Granted, I was young and motherless and nothing in the way I was raised had taught me to be compassionate. Mocked, yes. Ridiculed, yes. Shamed, yes. Humiliated, yes, yes, yes. Compassion and understanding — no, they weren’t part of our family dynamics. Still, shouldn’t I have picked up compassion somewhere?

I’m not even sure I would realize today how little compassion I had for Gramma if life hadn’t forced me to walk in her shoes, if I hadn’t heard coming out of my mouth words that echoed Gramma’s. I stood in the shower a couple weeks ago, crying and asking God to have mercy on me, to just take my life rather than force me to continue suffering in this world.

It’s been a rough and rocky life — poverty, abuse, loneliness and enough mistakes to prevent me from accomplishing anything this world measures as success. Even decisions made for good reasons, selfless reasons inevitably backfired and backfired badly. The only comfort I’ve found over the years is the knowledge that I didn’t scar my daughters too badly with my errors in judgment and emotional handicaps. Both are college educated, and while Katie is still searching for a rewarding career path, Sara has built both a successful professional career and a successful marriage.

Part of the problem is a serious “save the world” complex. Twenty years ago I was working for a supervisor whose career path and temperament were not well-matched, so I shouldered the responsibility for ensuring the department ran smoothly — right up to the point where she put me on probation because I couldn’t do the work of three full-time employees and five part-time employees because she had mismanaged a situation. She got tenure; I was denied unemployment.

Then there was the art career I sacrificed. I had worked for nearly a decade building an art career, building a network and building a resume. I had even been awarded a grant which would have enabled me to focus on my art for three years when a woman I knew casually started nagging me to apply for the position of executive director of an art center. The center was at-risk, she said, and I had the skills and contacts needed to save it. I remained firm for three months, but eventually gave in. The woman who was so assiduous in her efforts to get me into a position that required professional credibility in order to be effective, then set about systematically destroying my reputation by playing manipulative games with me, board members, fellow employees and others associated with the art center. I was fired; she was asked to serve as interim director.

Equally as stupid was my second foray into non-profit management. I had managed to build a credible career in the newspaper business when asked to serve on the board of a non-profit that trained volunteers to advocate for abused and neglected children. During the first nine months I was on the board, we went through three directors and had a quorum at a meeting only once. I knew there was a major problem and offered to take a six-week leave of absense from my newspaper job in order to serve as interim director of the organization; the board was supposed to search for a replacement while I diagnosed the problems so we could set the organization on the right path again. I did my part; I found the problems — the organization wasn’t in compliance with national standards, the advocates weren’t being properly trained or supervised and grant funding had been badly mismanaged. The board didn’t do theirs; they didn’t even bother to advertise the position. I should have walked away, but I didn’t. I should have returned to a career that I loved, but I didn’t. I stayed and worked diligently to get the organization on track — only to be fired when an employee who couldn’t do the job she was hired to do found an ally in a board member who had been fired from a cushy state position.

Now, I’m unemployed again. Not fired this time, though. Burnout. I’ve been crying a lot at home for the better part of two weeks. Last weekend, I broke down at work, and when it happened twice in two days, I quit.

You wouldn’t think it was possible to suffer burnout working at a convenience store, but for someone with a “save the world” complex, it is. Graveyard personnel don’t stock the cooler; I’ll do it. Manager doesn’t ensure the staff has the necessary cash on hand; I’ll do it. Manager doesn’t want to be bothered with tedious, time-consuming tasks; I’ll do it. Manager fails to adequately staff the business: I’ll work 12-, 13- and 15-hour shifts. I’ll do anything I can to make sure the store continues to run at a profit; I’ll do it.

So, now I’m weeks away from being homeless and I finally understand Gramma. She lost her husband and spent long years alone — just as I have. She worked hard, believing she knew the best way for things to be done — just as I do. In the end, she had nothing but long, lonely hours to fill and little to show for nearly 90 years of life. I haven’t even hit 60 yet, but it feels longer and like Gramma, I have little to show for my life.

I understand now why she would sit around and say, “I wish I were dead.” I should have been more compassionate.

Bless the Lord

Bless the Lord, O my soul;
and all my being, bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.
He pardons all your iniquities,
he heals all your ills.
He redeems your life from destruction,
he crowns you with kindness and compassion.
Ps. 103:1-4

At Mass this morning, Pope Francis recommended praying this daily because it teaches us what we must say to the Lord when we ask for a grace. He also spoke about courage before the Lord and tenacity.

I know this because I have the Pope App on my phone. Each day, when I sit down to pray, I check the app to see what points he made in his homily. I have been deeply moved on more than one occasion when his words encouraged me in exactly the way I needed on that occasion.

Most memorable to me was a homily in which Pope Francis said unity is not uniformity, but diversity with harmony. Today, in celebratingthe Feast of the Patrons of Rome, Ss. Peter and Paul, he said something similar. He said we need to be “united in our differences: there is no other Catholic way to be united. This is the Catholic spirit, the Christian spirit.” I find remarks such as these to be comforting.

I usually reveal this with caution, because in this part of the country, the following pronouncement is tantamount to painting a bull’s eye on your forehead, but I am not a conservative. God calls me to take the gospels quite literally, which means I can’t do the mental gymnastics that conservatives do quite naturally. Because this attitude is found not only in the political arena, but also in the Church itself, I often feel like an outsider — attending Mass for the grace of the sacrament, not because I experience a sense of community among those who applaud a priest whose homilies are political in a way that on occasion troubles me deeply.

When Pope Francis speaks about diversity and differences as part of the Church’s charism, as part of our identity, he’s drawing on a heritage that goes back to the time of the early Church. St. Paul wrote to both the Romans and the Corinthians about the body with its many parts. “We have many parts in the one body, and all these parts have different functions. In the same way, though we are many, we are one body in union with Christ, and we are all joined to each other as different parts of one body”(Rom. 12:4-5).

And, in I Corinthians, St. Paul elaborates on this: “For the body itself is not made up of only one part, but of many parts…. If the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I don’t belong to the body,’ that would not keep it from being a part of the body. If the whole body were just an eye, how could it hear? And if it were only an ear, how could it smell? As it is, however, God put every different part in the body just as he wanted it to be. There would not be a body if it were all only one part! As it is, there are many parts but one body” (I Cor. 12:14,16-20).

Since Pope Francis has begun to speak of this diversity as positive, I no longer feel as alienated from the Church as I did just a few months ago. The Church does not have to accept the either-or paradigm that is the political arena. The Church has room for all of us at the table. Ah! How sweet it is to have this affirmed!

That is among the four answered prayers which I have been remembering this week. Remembrance is such an important part of the spiritual life. We remember how God has worked in our lives and this strengthens us when we’re going through a difficult passage.

The first answered prayer for which I have been giving thanks is my daughter Sara’s marriage to Brodie. I knew when Sara was growing up how difficult our family life was for her. Sara needed a large, loving extended family. I don’t mean to imply that we had no family; we simple weren’t a close family, one which shared holidays and vacations. Sara needed that, and so for years I prayed she would marry into a family that could provide what she needed. When I went to Oregon for her wedding, and met Brodie’s family, I knew that God was answering my prayer. There was the family Sara had needed her whole life.

The second answered prayer for which I am giving thanks is my daughter Katie’s decision to join the Catholic Church. I left the Church when I was young, made a detour through evangelical Christianity and Zen Buddhism before returning to the Church 20 years ago with a deep love of Scripture and an appreciation of meditation (what Catholics often call centering prayer). I knew that I could not suddenly spring the Catholic Church on my girls; I could only invite them to join me. Katie, I sensed, had a spiritual nature and would be nurtured by the life of the Church, but I knew I could only pray and wait. That I did, right up to the day she received the sacraments for the first time. What a blessed Easter that was!

Pope Francis, as I have already shared, is also an answer to prayer, but the fourth which has moved me to the point of tears occurred just last week. When I was 12, my mother — a seamstress — made vacation outfits for a family from the neighboring community. One of the girls in that family, was my age and we became friends. For nearly 35 years, I considered her to be my best friend, a sister with whom I shared nearly my whole life. Then, a little over 10 years ago, we had a disagreement that escalated until our friendship was strained to the breaking point.

I had always know that possibility existed. During adolescence, she felt she had outgrown me at one stage and we were out of touch for a couple years. Too, when you lose a parent while growing up, as I did, all relationshipships feel tenuous, and you’ll do just about anything to maintain those that are important. I had gotten into the habit of not standing up for myself out of fear of losing the only person in my life with whom I had a shared history, the only person who had known my mother, celebrated holidays with me and my children, supported my various attempts at building a life out of the shattered pieces of early traumas. That wasn’t healthy, and as with most unhealthy relationships, a time came when that dysfunctional pattern ceased to work.

I grieved deeply, and kept the lines of communication open. As did she. We exchanged birthday greetings, Christmas cards, the occasional gift. However, when we made an effort to get together, the meetings had none of the naturalness that marked our friendship for so many decades. I prayed for a true reconcilliation, though. Day after day, year after year, not beginning to know whether a reconcilliation was even possible, I prayed. And then, earlier this year, she asked me to assist with a project — and the collaboration worked. She asked if she could visit and I agreed. Last week, we got together, and it was a graced experience. We made plans so that we would have something to do in case conversation was strained, but we discovered we had much to say to each other. And I was so grateful for that time together.

Today, when I read the news release about the pope’s homily at Mass and his admonition to be tenacious, I found myself smiling. Yes, we need to be tenacious in prayer. I think when we’re tenacious in prayer, we are doubly graced when those prayers are answered. Not only do we know that God has heard us and said “Yes,” but the experience is so profound, that we are given a gift to remember when the going gets tough.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.