Everyday Spirituality

Posts tagged ‘friendship’

Raising the Cheetos

Some things you just cannot escape.

I knew it was coming. I even made plans for it. I reached out to a friend to have Mass said for her. I bought the ceremonial Cheetos. I surrounded myself with her family. I prayed for her. I talked to her. I reached out to her for the right words of comfort.

Some things you just cannot escape.

Some things you must endure as painful as they may be inside. Sometimes I wish I had some external wound. I could look at this wound and use it as a gage as to how my heart and emotions were progressing. But of course there is no such wound. And even if there were I would want it hidden, covered by my clothes maybe on my abdomen.

That seems an appropriate place since we all get gut feelings from time to time. I once saw a silly movie where the person had some kind of little creature that would emerge from their side. It was never good when this creature appeared. It was more like a spoiled child.

I do not like thinking things are fine. I have now moved on. I can deal with this loss. I know she is gone. Death is part of life…end of story.

But it is not that simple. Grief lays low waiting to ambush you.

Even when you think you are aware; you get blindsided. It comes out and bops you on the head. It punches you in the stomach…knocks the air out of your lungs.

It really sucks.

You look at the life she had and you rejoice. You try to carry on with the things she loved…family meals, games, and celebrating together. She was all about being together with her loved ones.

I went through the motions…I even tried to be happy and smile. The words of the music at Mass touched my heart in its most vulnerable area. Maybe there is a special section of your heart reserved to hold memories of loved ones forever. Forever is such a long time. I know it will get better, but that does not diminish the present pain.

Maybe I should just swallow a pill and get on with my life. That sounds like a plan. No, that is not the solution for me. I have said many times I wanted to experience this loss. I do not want to pretend the pain does not exist.

So yesterday on what would have been her seventieth birthday, I stood in my kitchen and raising a Cheetos to heaven toasted our friendship. “Here’s to the good times.” I said. Who needs alcohol to make a toast anyway? As I ate each little cheesy stick I etched even more indelibly in my heart the times of laughter we shared together.

Some things you just cannot escape!

I Am with You Always

For some time I have had a picture of Jesus embracing a child in a hug. In this picture, however I see the woman receiving comfort in this embrace. The muted colors reflect tenderness to me. Even moments of tenderness can carry a huge impact on your soul. I tend to close my eyes attempting to block the outside world from interfering with my feelings. The arms of Jesus are supporting the child and drawing her close into his love. Jesus also has his eyes closed so he is also focused on this moment in time. Jesus even seems to be using his head to further extend his love to this child.

I can remember holding my children close to me in much this same pose. Looking back at the child her right hand seems to be clutching to Jesus’ shoulder.

I am describing this picture with such care because it closely represents much of what I was gifted with this weekend during a guided meditation. We were initially led into a church with large heavy doors.

I was at first in a church we had visited while in Barcelona a few months ago. I could easily picture the massive doors. The exterior surface was covered with cut out raised words. You could easily trace the letter of each word with your fingers. The name of Jesus was highlighted in gold and could easily be read.

As the meditation progressed I found myself in another European church with the typical smaller altars lining both sides of the inside walls. I am kneeling there to pray for my friend, which I had actually done, when I began to feel this warmness.

My friend was embracing me; our hearts were merging and the tears were beginning to well up in my eyes. I remember thinking I wanted to wipe them aside, but I did not want to move for fear of spoiling the moment. I remained still letting this embrace be enough to fill my heart with her love.

I think God used this special time to let me know that she would be with me during the rest of the weekend. Towards the end of the meditation time we were asked to touch the place on our body where we experienced God’s glory, I think, anyway I could only touch my heart. I felt her embracing my heart much as I had felt her hugging me physically many times before.

I did not want to let the moment pass, but I knew it was not meant to last. This picture above is a wonderful snapshot of a moment frozen in eternity.

I felt her presence with me at other times during the weekend too. She was beside me during many conversations I had with the other women. She knew most of the women present. She never met a person she did not remember on subsequent occasions.

If she met you she cared about you it was that simple. So she would not have missed the opportunity this weekend to be with those she knew.

So in spite of not really wanting to be on this retreat I know now it was a blessing of peace. It was a blessing of reassurance of her presence. I know Jesus said he would be with us until the end of time.

So if my dearest friend is with him in heaven, which I have no doubt she is, then it seems reasonable to me that she would also be with me until the end of time. Without the hindrance of her physical body she can now be with many at the same time, family and friends.

The beauty of the ‘spirit’ of a person is that there are no boundaries, but only a thin separation as some call the ‘veil of death’. Shortly before my friend became ill my sister was inspired to paint her in an embrace with Jesus similar to this image.

This week as celebrate Valentine’s Day my heart is rejoicing at the friendship and love we shared for so many years. Sending my valentine wishes via thoughts and prayers sprinkled with joy for all the times we shared together.

I invite you to pause tomorrow and think about those who have been a part of your life and touched your soul in a special way. They are with you if only in your heart.

“And behold, I am with you always,

until the end of the age.”

(Matthew 28:20)

Do You Ever Feel Stripped?

Romans 8:28, 31 “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose…If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Throughout life we are stripped in many different situations. Daily we strip from our clothes in order to cleanse our body. Thus we have the sanitary reason for stripping. Whenever I make my annual gynecological visit stripping is also required. Thus we have the medical reason for stripping.

Refinishing furniture requires stripping off the old finish. A stripped screw can no longer function properly. And of course we have the whole adult entertainment industry where stripping is used to attract and tempt men and women.

There are other examples of stripping I could include, but I want to focus on feeling stripped as a result of a death. A stripping you cannot control; more on that a little later.

The idea here of feeling stripped is about loss; not of clothing but of emotional support. Since losing my friend I have felt stripped of her presence. It is like I do not have my complete wardrobe.

Looking into my ‘closet’ I am not able to find an acceptable substitute. I get dressed, but always something is missing. I feel things do not coordinate together. Something I highly valued has been stripped from my life.

Throughout our lives we are involuntary stripped of things we hold dear…material things….money…personal security…peace of mind…hopes…and dreams…health…the list could go on.

I know in my heart that it is more about how I react than to what I perceive is being stripped from me. This realization requires vigilance.

I often try to connect situations in my life with a familiar biblical story. When I think of being stripped I picture Jesus being stripped of his clothes. He chose to submit to this humiliating act allowing the soldiers to strip him and cast lots for his garments. No greater Love!

Without clothes you are naked and vulnerable to the external elements. Without clothes you lose some protection. There is nothing to cover your sensitive skin. The death of my close friend to me is much like being stripped.   I feel vulnerable.

Being stripped of your soul friend leaves you without familiar cover. Not that you can hide inside your clothing, but the friendship provides a safe place. Within friendship that which is less than perfect and hidden from others is accepted by your friend. Inside the clothing of friendship you are not preoccupied with what others think. You are accepted and loved for just being…you. You can actually be better at who you are.

Occasionally I have left home without something as simple as my earrings. It seems ridiculous, but I feel naked without earrings. I know it makes no sense. Earrings are a very small part of being dressed.

I feel stripped and vulnerable without my friend, but at the same time there is this sense of freedom. This sense of freedom almost makes me feel guilty. Freedom seems to contradict the loss and feelings of being stripped. A freedom from being stripped is the freedom from expectations.

Piet Mondrian

As we approach Lent I invite you to consider; what you can strip from your own life. During Lent we have the freedom to look at our lives and decide what we can strip away in order to have a closer relationship with the Lord.

We can ask ourselves these questions, “What am I hiding behind?

What is compromising my acceptance of God’s plan for me?”

“What am I clutching onto for dear life?”

Like St. Paul I often do not know how to pray as I ought; especially when I feel stripped, vulnerable and sometimes even deserted by God.

Flashes of the Past

I have been known to enjoy some science fiction movies from time to time. I really like The Abyss it is the most beautiful love story. Keeping that in mind I wish there were a way to virtually project into real-time past memories as you called them to mind or as they come forward. I know it sounds silly and that is why we have movie cameras…to capture those moments we want to preserve.

I have had a couple experiences recently not of déjà vu exactly but similar. My friend and I took our ministry to several other parishes beside our own. A few years ago we gave a women’s retreat based on the powerful story of the Woman Caught in Adultery at another parish.

When I had the occasion to visit the parish again I was not really thinking about the possibility of being in the very same room, but as it turned out we were. It felt surreal walking into this room again. So much of what we had done together in that space came flooding back into my body. I almost had to stop and take a deep breath before crossing the threshold. We had also presented an Advent series about the Blessed Mother in that very same room.

As I sat in the space I wanted to close my eyes and relive every detail of our time together in that exact room. I could picture us standing in the front of the room together walking the women into the scripture story that cold winter Saturday morning. I could hear us talking about Jesus writing in the sand. Then I could see the women coming forward with their sand during the closing ritual.

It was an emotionally charged day and now those emotions are mixed inside me with the emotions of her absence. We can never do that presentations together again and it was my favorite. It had been the very first day of prayer we did for our own parish. Even my mother and sister were present.

Memories are malleable to me you can take them in your hand. They can bring you comfort in times of sadness. Sometimes a memory will materialize when you least expect and surprise you. Sometimes memories have a way to make you appreciate even more something you once had.

The last time we presented together was for the team of women’s retreat for our parish. I am already beginning to emotionally prepare for my return visit to this person’s home as I have been asked to present to another retreat group in this person’s beautiful home.

I guess I am just being sentimental. I know sooner or later I will not be having these déjà vu experiences any longer. As more time passes there is less and less of a connection. Not that the person is any less missed or less loved it’s just that other memories get stored on top.

The most recent research on the brain and memory indicates that our memories are stored in several places throughout our brain. When we recall an event our incredible brain reconstructs the bits and pieces of information into one unified memory. But it makes sense then that occasionally we have missed some of the details or ‘remembered’ something incorrectly. Our memories are not fool-proof, but recording details in a journal is a great tool to help reconstruct an event. Of course pictures are another excellent way to preserve memories. Movies are probably the most accurate way to preserve something you want to remember many years later. I know many people scrapbook which becomes a wonderful keepsake for generations to come.

We have an amazing brain that is why just walking into a room can trigger the details of something that occurred in that location. I am sure you have all had the experience of heading to another room to get something only to reach the room with no memory of why you were going there. The easiest way to remember is to return to the place where you had the thought of what you wanted from the other room.

I wonder what our life would be like if we could not ever remember anything. I think they have made a movie about something like that, maybe 100 First Dates. I am not sure.

I do cherish my memories they conjure up all sorts of emotions within my soul. It makes me happy to remember the presentations my friend and I did together. And it makes me sad to think we will never be presenting together again.

The most vivid memories we can recall are often colored by a strong emotion…love…fear…joy…sadness. Strong emotions embed the memory into our psyche giving it a much longer retention rate.

 

I pray for those whose loved ones suffer from memory loss. Dementia is a devastating disease especially when the person is the picture of health. It is hard to experience the apparent ‘death’ of the person you once loved because of Alzheimer’s, a most devastating disease for family members.

We actually rely a great deal on our memory. Take a moment and express gratitude for your memory. You might want to recall one of your most precious memories to date.

Close your eyes and try to recall as many of the details as possible. Who is there…where you were…what it looked like…what could you hear…what were your feelings at the time?

Take Up Your Mat

Seven years ago my friend and I were part of a group of 5 women who developed a women’s retreat for our church. This retreat has been well attended each year since the first weekend.

The theme for that weekend was from the Gospel of Mark 2: 1-12. Specifically verse 11 when Jesus says to the paralytic, “…pick up your mat and go home.”

We met many times to discuss this theme in depth. We wanted to literally climb into the Bible and become part of the crowded room. We wanted to be the friends who carried the paralytic to be healed. We empathized with the paralytic on the mat. We totally immersed ourselves in this beautiful story.

We discussed what it meant to have friends that would carry your mat. What it meant to have friends that would go to great means for a friend. We visualized how they broke open the roof and lowered the paralytic down before Jesus.

Each time we met allowed us to become closer as friends ourselves. We sometimes met at a restaurant and enjoyed a glass of wine or a margarita together. We were bonding as we embraced the depth of this gospel. Little did we know then how much that story would touch us in the near future.

One of us would indeed need to be carried on the mat.

Shortly after this first retreat one of the five of us would be diagnosed with a terminal illness…pancreatic cancer. My best friend allowed us to place her on the mat and carry her. Friendship has many faces and it takes on many shapes. I think true friendship must be able to morph into whatever is needed. True friendship cannot be rigid and structure. True friendship must be fluid by its very nature.

Many times before her death the image of carrying her mat became more and more evident. She was no longer to do all that she wanted to do. Others came and carried a part of her mat.

It was something she certainly never anticipated. Her whole life she was the more likely person to carry the mat of another. But when she got sick all of that changed. All that we had discussed about the paralytic being carried by his friends was too real…painfully real. At times we did not even want to admit that she was on the ‘mat’.

But unlike in the Gospel we could not physically lower her mat through the roof and bring her to Jesus. While we loved the gospel image, for me it began to become a painful image. She wanted God to heal her so much and we all wanted her to be healed. God had other plans.

In the scripture after Jesus heals the paralytic it says, “They were all astounded and glorified God…” I have written more about the word astounded on my other blog, here is the link www.scripture4you.blogspot.com    Astounded…Wonder and Awe

 

This verse also tells us they ‘glorified God’. I know without a doubt that my friend is healed and is in heaven glorifying God. She is now clothed with the eternal light of his love. He has indeed shown his brilliant face upon her. She joyfully rejoices at all he has done for her. She is now experiencing things unlike she could have ever imagined. And she had a vivid imagination.

The mat will always be an important image of friendship to me. We all need friends from time to time in our lives to carry our mat. We all need friends to carry us to the Lord…if not physically through their kindness and their love.

 

I desire to live my life so that someday I will be able to join those in the crowded room with Jesus and say, “I have never seen anything like this.”

 

I have faith that one day I will see my friend again and no words will be needed for us to communicate. Together we will glorify God for what else would there be to do in heaven? When we enter into the presence of pure love how wondrous will be that day.

“When Jesus saw their faith, he said to him, “Child, your sins are forgiven.”

“Rise, pick up you mat and walk.”

As I am writing this I am listening to beautiful symphonic music by Julie Larson. The sound of the instruments blending together lifts up my soul and inspires me.

“It was not you who chose me, says the Lord, but I who chose you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” John 15:16

Soon we will have our annual women’s retreat and she will be with us…her joyful spirit with be with us. This year the theme is, “… whatever you do, do all for the glory of God.” 1 Cor. 10:31 She loved this retreat so very much.

She continues to be missed and always…loved.

 

The Party

Well today is The Party. For several years now my friend and her husband have hosted a party to celebrate family, love, and friendship. This party is much like a wedding reception except there will be no new bride and groom. But in many ways we are celebrating their wedding because it brought forth a beautiful family. We are celebrating all that is good about love and family. This party contains all the elements one could hope for in life…food, family, friends, fun, and music.

They loved to dance together and they loved to see their guests having fun together. Every other year has been marked with this celebration. I have to accept my deep regret this time. Two years ago at their last party my husband and I were in San Diego, consequently we were not able to attend.

Had I known two years ago that she would not be here for her next party I would have made different vacation plans. But we are not privileged to see the future so, I was not there. It was my decision. We all have to live with the results of the decisions we make in life.

She was disappointed that we were going to miss the party, but she never made me feel guilty. That is true friendship.

That year during the party she gave away some of her precious possessions to her children. She also had small pieces of crystal decorating each table, which one person at each table received to take home.

Later many people asked me if she knew she was dying. I cannot now nor could I then answer that question completely. But I believe when you have pancreatic cancer diagnosis you cannot “not” think about your own mortality.

It seems fitting that the gospel reading today is the Wedding Feast at Cana. Jesus performed his first public miracle changing water into the best wine. I rejoice at the beautiful marriage my friend and her husband shared for 42 years. On more than one occasion I witnessed their response to, “Do whatever he tells you.” On more than one occasion they took empty jars a filled them with their unconditional love. Who could ask for anything more from a friend than unconditional love?

It will be a difficult night as I mingle with family and friends who loved her and miss her presence in their lives. I suppose I will never truly get over missing her. Yes, I know things get better with time, but a part of me left this earth with her. A part that can never be replaced…a part I gladly let her take into eternity…my love for her.

We used to do a day of prayer together called “The Heart Connection”. We used a little story about an old man and a young man each boasting about who had the most beautiful heart. The young man thought he did until he listened to the old man describe how his heart came to look so tattered and torn. How through the years the old man had given parts of his heart away. How sometimes people would ignore his gift; and sometimes they would give him a piece of their heart in return. His heart looked more like a well loved and worn patch work quilt to be treasured.

I go to this party ready to join her family in sharing her love with everyone attending.

I wonder, though not recorded in the Bible, how many people regretted not answering the call to follow Jesus. Did they have other things to do at the time of the call? Did they not believe what he was saying and doing? Were they not ready? Was it just not the right time in for them?

We all have regrets in our life. A regret can be as simple as not being able to accept an invitation or as serious as not mending a relationship with a loved one. Many people express their regrets on their deathbed.

“Regrets are the tears of choices not made, and of good deeds left undone.” Jonathan Lockwood Huie

I really do not think my friend had any real regrets to express, because she lived her life always trying to do what was placed on her heart.

Perhaps it is better to make a fool of yourself rather than to build a storage shed to hold all of your life regrets.

“…Live in a manner worthy of the call you have received.” Eph. 4:1b

Well everyone at the party had a good time and joy filled the room through lively music, exhausting dance, tasty food, personal conversations, and warm embraces.

My friend was dancing in heaven with us…not sure what the chicken dance looks like with angel wings! But I have a really vivid imagination!

“All who believed were together and had all things in common.” Acts. 2:44

 

Friends Define Each Other

“If Jesus can be said to have had a best friend,

it was certainly Simon Peter.

It has been my experience that

friends define each other.

When I am uncertain about the direction of my life,

I go to my closest friends to affirm,

or perhaps reaffirm,

who I am and what the calling in my life is all about.”

Several years ago I read these words written by Michael Card in his book A Fragile Stone. They jumped off the page then, but today they have an even more profound meaning to me. The loss of my friend has made me stop as if held in between two breaths. I have lost my Faith Twin, the person who gave definition to my life purpose. Her affirming words always came at just the right time. “You CAN do this.” We gave each other permission to express our faith outside of the more conventional parameters. It was okay for us to take a gospel story and make it our very own. It was natural for us to invite others to walk into the pages of scripture with us; to bring them alive in today’s world.

Whenever I had doubts I knew I could go to her and be honest and open about where I was with situations in my life. I believe I can still talk with her; only I cannot hear her affirming words.

                       

Who am I? Where am I going? How will I get there?

She was there to listen and to offer her advice. When you risk sharing your hopes and dreams with another you must trust that they will affirm you. You have faith; they will help you decide what is to ultimately come to define who you are becoming.

I have lost my sounding board. The defining pages of my life have less clarity today than before her death. She was present on so many occasions as we wrote the pages of our lives together. Together we defined each other as we shared our love for others in so many ways.

I sometimes feel like Linus. Who would he be without his blanket? But unlike a real person; a blanket is just a thing. A blanket cannot respond to you.

You may be wondering if we were codependent and the answer is a confident NO, but it was so nice to have her here to share the defining moments of what my life was becoming.

One of our last conversations was about the future for Faith Twins…me alone…without her presence. This conversation was saturated with hope for a beautiful future. A future preserving what we had defined through our friendship. A future filled with hope…a future filled with blank pages delicately bordered by the fingerprints of our friendship… pages…to be continued… defining my life’s purpose. She had a way of helping me to see what my calling in life was about…I know there are many times yet to come when I will long to hear her words of reassurance…just to hear her voice.

I will walk all the days of my life

in the land of the living….

For it is right and just to give him praise and thanks.

Praise and thanks for touching my life in so many subtle and profound ways.

Who most helps define who you are today?

Give thanks for that person.