Early in the morning one workday, I knelt in the chapel in our building. The sanctuary lamp flickered and glowed in the dark. It was a tangible reminder that in the empty chapel Jesus was there with me listening to my prayers.
I watched the candle’s flame dance, its light shining. I felt a peace wash over me. The feeling settled like a wool shawl around my shoulders. I am never alone. Even when I can’t see the candle burning.
My prayer goes something like this, “Please go with me. I am a silly woman in front of the tabernacle trying to find healing and strength. Lord, I know you can help me and all my dear ones. You are silent and strong. I know with you when everything goes wrong, You are right beside me. Hold me close to you. Never let me fear. I want to be one with you. I love you, my dear Saviour. I am worried but I put all my worries in your hands.”
Sometimes when I pray I can hear a quiet voice, “Darling, look upon me. Do not be afraid. I am always with you. I will not abandon you. I delight in your efforts, tenacity, and smiles. Do not weary. I will carry you if you are tired. I love you. You are mine. My daughter, be brave.”
And then after those precious quiet minutes, I picked up my lunch kit and went upstairs to my desk. I was ready to offer my day for my loved ones. I set out to work in a manner pleasing to God and my colleagues. Each phone call, email, and written report is an opportunity for prayer.
Even if you are a student and you have a lot of studying to do, it can be your time of prayer. I often think that way about my writing. When it seems I can’t take time away from house chores or other pressing work, I remind myself that this is also a way to pray.
I am my biggest critic. When I see some of my finished work – either my writing, podcast, or videos – I start to point out all that I did wrong. Or when I fall into the same sins again and again.
I turn to the Lord saying, “Lord, I am your cracked clay pot. I am your unpolished art. Mould me and fashion me.”
The beauty of that moment is, I can begin again. I can learn from my mistakes or even my beginner’s method. I can grow and adapt and change. I am leaning on the strength of the Lord in prayer and the sacraments and practising flexibility. I have a strong desire to be ready for the Lord like those wise bridesmaids who had extra oil for their lamps.
For a whole week I had trouble sleeping. I had sensory hallucinations from my mental illness showing up along with stress. It passed and I learned that taking the rest I need is non-negotiable. I treasure the hours of solid sleep I can get, knowing that this is one key way to stay healthy.
When there is a flurry of concern in politics and culture, I hold on to the word of God, which is true. And I look to the things that I can control which are my “thoughts, muscles and impulses” (Dr. Abraham Low, American neuropsychiatrist). I am amazed at the peace I can receive when I read Scripture and give my burdens to the Lord. It does help!
I continue to rise and give my best. Some days I am more tired than others. I focus on what I can do and “be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction. Practise resurrection” (Wendell Berry).
Washing dishes with pink gloves in hot suds, I had pause to think of all the good gifts in my life. The people, the growing of a dream, the crafting of a memoir. It all means so much to me. Soap suds squeaked and popped. Plates clattered together. I got lost in a hope-filled reverie.
The sun was behind rain clouds, and outside the window a bright green canopy of trees lined the street. A newness even in the overshadowing of a worldwide pandemic. There was a change. The smell of lilacs and honeysuckle in the alley wafted behind my little grey house.
Leaving the sink, I carried the trash outside. I tossed the compost in with a whump. Stretching my arms to the sky, I watched for aviator-like bumblebees passing by. The evening songbird sang high on the telephone wire. The ivy covering the gate shook in the slight wind. A smile pulled at the corners of my mouth. “I am going to be okay.”
My days are full, and my nights are calm. I have peace and joy. The Lord is my all in all. I try to give myself to him completely. Even the lost and broken pieces of my heart I give to him to find and repair. His love heals me through each relationship and time of prayer.
Often, I say, “Jesus, I trust in you. You take care of everything.” There have been many times when I have felt invisible, rejected, and lonely. And he has been with me through it all. I may not be perfect, but I am enough. I am learning to “trust in the slow work of God” and to “give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading.”
Sometimes it is hard to follow the advice from Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, in his short piece “Trust in the Slow Work of God” to “accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”
The ordinary task of doing dishes helps me to silence the noise I am usually surrounded by and to talk to God. I long to speed ahead through the chores and in my personal projects. I can be quite impatient. “And yet,” says Father de Chardin, “it is the law of progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability – and that it may take a very long time.”
The slow growth in relationships and work is almost unnoticeable. But it is new. Gradually, with grace and action they take shape and mature. When I take a deep breath in nature, I am serene with life flourishing all around me. It takes a long time for a tree to stand tall in a forest. Reminding myself of the steady movement of God in my life, I can be present to all the blessings I have.
Who am I to be loved by a God so great? And yet, I have become more aware of his goodness when I reflect on my day with gratitude. I am grateful for rain-picked raspberries from my elderly neighbour. Time spent with loved ones at coffee shops I hadn’t seen in months brings such joy. The beauty of yellow roses and fragrance of jasmine flowers in nearby gardens are lovely.
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever” (Ps 136:1). Instead of dreading chores, I will relish the time to clean. Finding restoration in the Lord who is with me through it all.
When I was hit with intense pain from a pinched nerve and muscle spasm in my leg, I had to relinquish my to-do list.
Hot, sharp pain travelled up my leg, and I found that the most comfortable position was lying flat on the floor. I couldn’t stand to floss my teeth at night. Walking became limping. And breathing became a catch-and-release routine.
My sister helped me by making dinners, making me laugh, and supporting me on short walks. She offered her shoulder to lean on. She served up patience with my constant groans and complaints about how much pain I was in.
My hope was faltering and it started to feel like this pain would be my new reality. One night my mom played ukulele over Zoom video as I lay on my back and cried. She let me choose my favourite songs. The next night, we prayed a Rosary together on a video chat. I shifted to find the best sitting position. Her smile lit up my heart. She asked the Lord to show me how much he loves me and to show me that he is suffering with me.
There is a comfort in imagining that my Saviour is suffering alongside me. I can picture him holding my hand and giving it a squeeze when a muscle spasm shoots fiery shocks up my leg. I let my breath out that I catch and release.
I cancelled story time with my 4-year-old godson because the pain was so strong one night. The next day, we set up a new time to video chat and to my surprise he read me a story. He read The Cat in the Hat as I moved now and then to relieve the nerve pain. His bright face beamed with excitement to share his new talent with me.
The Lord is doing a new thing. Stripped of my usual comfort and the busyness of my task list, my priority becomes peace of heart, I am aware of how intertwined my mind, body, and spirit are. Amidst hot tears I sing a song I made up, “You can take all this pain away,” hoping Jesus would take the hint.
Experiencing acute back pain and nerve pain, I realize that my identity is not in all the things I can do. It’s not in what I can offer. It’s me and my toothy smile. It’s the fact that I was born and am alive. And what a miracle that is, that my parents met, and their parents met. I am a beloved daughter of God.
Accepting my sister’s help is hard sometimes. I don’t want to feel like a burden. I am reminded that I am enough. I’ve read that we are human beings after all, not human doings. We are overcoming. We will always need healing from past wounds or illnesses.
St. Paul says, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:10 NIV)
I have the Lord and he is everything to me. I trust that he can take care of everything. Even in my suffering, he is there.
For now I must endure pain, and with each discomfort I withstand, I am molded into something new. A strength has sprung forth in me. A fierce hope in seeing what is to come. Suffering in this day is not going to keep my spirits down. Hope is like a muscle. I choose to exercise it more than self-pity. I will not give up!
Intertwining branches of tall mossy trees reach out. My heart feels free. I breathe in. The forest is nature’s cathedral. Oxygen rushes in refreshing my lungs and giving me a giddy feeling of lightness.
On a hike with a few friends, our pace is quick, strides matching as we climb around rocks and over roots. Moments of silence. Bird calls. Wind swishing evergreen branches. The clomp of hiking boots on packed earth. This is our music. A calm rushes over my body. Hiking grounds me and connects me to our Creator.
Respite and recovery liberate my mind and spirit. Walking through a canopy of trees was what I needed. Stopping for almond snacks, chocolate bark, and cool sips of water; I am energized to continue on. Almost at the falls. Our conversation and laughter fill the air around us.
“Careful!” my friend points to a poisonous plant at the path’s edge. I study its light green leaves and step away from it. Falling pine needles hit my hat. Mossy stones, old man’s beard, crackly bark.
In Peter Wohlleben’s book, The Hidden Life of Trees, he explains that a forest is a community. The trees “exchanges nutrients” to help “neighbours in times of need.”
And “a tree is not a forest. On its own, a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It is at the mercy of wind and weather.”
Many trees together create a “protected environment,” and “trees can live to be very old.”
Just as in nature I thrive in community. I can count on support and encouragement in the never-ending roller coaster of a mood disorder. Like the mother trees shading the young saplings to not grow too fast, my mother nurtured my growth as a child. And was there when I needed help the most. In a moment of despair when I had lost all hope, she intervened in my disturbed state. With her tireless care, I received the best aid. Medicine, therapy, prayer, and love. In times of recovery, walking in nature gives me the opportunity to wonder.
Fungi are dotting the ground. Fiddleheads on ferns. The sound of water rushing over rocks. We are close. Steep incline. Quick short breaths. Reaching for the last step to view Norvan Falls.
The two-hour hike was worth the view. Where would I be without the help of my family and friends? Isolated. Sad. Hopeless. More like a desert than a forest.
A deep breath in and I smile at my fellow hikers: friends, sisters. We made it. Time for lunch. No matter what, we all need someone to help us in difficult times. Everyone needs a team to encourage, motivate, and speak truth into our hearts.
Jesus, the good shepherd knows how much we need peace. “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.”
Hiking gives me the ability to rest in interior and exterior peace. To be open to growing in friendship and love. To find joy in being in another’s presence and to stay healthy physically and mentally.
Connecting to the Creator among the trees strengthens my drive for life. “Even though I walk through the valley of death, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”