Gratitude has taken on a certain connotation. Many people think of gratitude as a sense of happiness and thankfulness for life’s pleasures both big and small. Usually it’s associated with something “positive.”But what if we find that we are grateful for things that maybe we don’t think we should be? What if we are grateful that we don’t think about unhealthy relationships with people from our past as much as we used to? What if we are thankful that a person is no longer a part of our lives and that we no longer miss them?
Possibly you find that you are grateful that you got fired from that job for whatever reason. Or maybe you are thankful that your divorce is finalized or that your roommate moved out and you can finally have some space.
I have had extremely complicated and often toxic relationships with certain members of my family. Some of them are now deceased and while I feel sad that those relationships will never be healed or rectified, and that those people died without making an effort to fix what was broken by their doing, I am grateful that I no longer have to to deal with those situations.
One day I was in the store buying cards for people because of an upcoming holiday. Usually, I catch myself smiling when picking out funny cards or cards that express beautiful emotions of love and affection. But other times, searching for the “right card” for someone in your family that you have a complicated relationship with can be very taxing. I suddenly realized that I no longer had to worry about endlessly searching for cards for people in my family that were really unkind and hurtful to me. I would be overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety, stress, anger and flashbacks of painful memories whenever I had to pick out a card for these people. I would be reminded of how selfish they were and how I would never have a normal relationship with them. But that is over now and I am grateful.
Sometimes guilt can accompany feelings of gratitude for situations like these. We think to ourselves that we shouldn’t feel that way or that we are heartless people for thinking such things. No, we are often times trying to process trauma, pain and navigate a world where people that were supposed to love us did damage to us instead.
Truthfully, my deepest wish would have been to have everything be healed and made new — a fresh start where amends were made and healing could have taken place. But that didn’t happen. What happened is what happened and I am grateful that part of it is now over.
Gratitude can take on many forms. I always believed that you cannot force true gratitude. It’s a gift. Be grateful for the gift of gratitude even if you find it in some complicated and unexpected places.
Since the start of this pandemic loneliness has been skyrocketing to epidemic proportions, but loneliness is something that has always existed even before our world came crashing down in 2020. That feeling of having a deep ache and longing for connection and interaction is intrinsically part of the human condition. It is complicated to connect with people when our world is so fixated on technology — that while can be useful in bringing us together through mediums like Zoom and FaceTime, often only widens the chasm between us. Social media has replaced social connection. For the record I’m not one of those people that demonizes social media in an attempt to blame all of society’s woes on Facebook and Instagram. However, I would be remiss in not bringing up the many examples of how it has hurt our world more than has helped it. It’s rather unfortunate because social media does have the capacity to create community if used properly — and certainly there are examples of that as well.
Having a chronic illness can be very lonely. You don’t have to be completely alone in order to feel this loneliness, as often times, those of us who are sick are surrounded by many people that cannot imagine what it’s like to walk in our shoes or sleep in our beds. We feel that deep ache of being the only ones going through what we are going through. This is because more people doesn’t equal less loneliness. It’s the quality of people around you and their willingness and capacity to understand and empathize with you that can make the difference. Many of us can be in a room full of people and still feel alone. Many of us can have tons of friends and still feel like nobody really gets us…because the truth is, we need people in our lives who are able to connect with us on a more than basic and superficial level. In order to ease those lonely feelings, we need to know that we are heard and understood and valued by the people that mean the most to us. It has become increasingly more difficult to find these connections in a world that keeps separating and dividing and distracting humanity from the deepest cries of our soul.
There are no easy fixes to this problem in general, but even more difficult to rectify for those of us who are chronically ill. Friendships can be hard to find and cultivate and rarely come out of thin air. When they do come along, there are often challenges to navigate. How much do you reveal about your illness to a new friend? Will they be accepting of your limitations? I won’t even mention how difficult and complicated dating can be. I’ll save that for another post.
When I was diagnosed in my late 20s, many of my friends did not know how to handle the situation. Some of them just disappeared. It can be an extremely painful experience to watch relationships that have been built over time deteriorate and destruct over something you have no control over and it often leaves you wondering if you’ve ever really had a true friend to begin with.
The same situation can be said for family members as well. People in your family who you thought would always have your back and support you can become awkward and distant. In the worst case they can be very callous and cruel.
I mentioned chronic illness here because this is, after all, a Blog about chronic illness and I’m writing it from my perspective, but in reality, you may be perfectly healthy and will still relate to everything I’m saying. This is because loneliness is universal and not contingent on health or sickness.
Things have gotten so bad, that there are actually telephone numbers you can call if you are experiencing loneliness and anxiety. They are not suicide lines, although if you call with those feelings they will connect you to the right people. No, these are lines where you can call at 2 a.m. in the morning just to talk to an actual human being and tell them that you can’t sleep — that you’re stressed and lonely.
They say one is the loneliest number but is that always true? Let’s say you’re in a relationship with someone who’s very abusive and you walk away from that relationship. You may find yourself feeling able to breathe again. You may feel your soul beginning to open up and feel alive again. You may be alone but you’re not lonely.
I think as long as there are human beings there will always be loneliness. It’s a part of who we are. We come into this world alone and when we leave it, we can’t take anyone with us. But there are things we can do to minimize it. We can start talking to each other and really listening. We can start accepting people who are different than we are. We can learn to love ourselves in a healthy way so that we can love others in a more healthy way. Instead of using social media to feed our narcissism, we can use it to reach out to those who are marginalized or use it to inspire change and use it to educate and uplift. We can check on our neighbors. Literally. Do you know who your neighbors are? Have you ever taken the time to get to know them or to say hello and wait for a response? If you have, good for you. If you haven’t, maybe it’s time to start. You just might be surprised at what happens…
Numbers are an important part of our world. They assign value and give meaning to everything from our calendars to our bank statements. But what happens when we become obsessed with these numbers? For example, how many Instagram followers do I have or how many people liked my Facebook post? And what number is my podcast ranking this week? It seems I haven’t been able to escape these questions about numbers for the past few weeks.
I have a podcast and I started it because I wanted people to feel like someone else out there in the world had their back and understood them. I, like many others, suffer from a number of chronic illnesses. This can be difficult to manage and can make life very complicated and limited. It’s often helpful when we share our experiences with others so we don’t feel so alone in our tribulations. So that was the point of me starting the podcast.
Even though I’m a graduate of a technical school that teaches audio editing, engineering and voice over for radio and television, I have not worked in that industry in quite some time. It is a rapidly changing field in which equipment quickly becomes outdated and obsolete.
I decided to take a podcasting course online to brush up on my technical skills. It was absolutely fantastic. It was very user-friendly and I sped through the modules pretty quickly. At the completion of the course you’re invited to a podcasting community page. It’s sort of a support group for podcasters that are just starting out. Overall it was a really fun and stimulating experience, but when we got to the topic of marketing the podcast, I realized that I did not possess the same enthusiasm for numbers that my peers/classmates did. The focus intensely became on gaining listenership and all the work that goes into that. Now, let me add a sidebar here. I am completely aware of the fact that marketing is an essential part of any endeavor in which an individual wants to make money at or gain an audience. I’m also not against people trying to make a living or even trying to get rich from an art form. There are, on occasion, people who feel entitled and think that you should be throwing twenties and fifties at them every chance you get just because they decided to be artistic, which, is a big turnoff.
Back to podcasting…
It’s difficult to maintain authenticity and integrity in one’s work when the focus becomes solely on the numbers. The number of listeners and the number of subscribers and the number of downloads and the number of followers, ect. It can be exhausting and can really suck the fun out of a project. I understand the need for it and again, people need to make money and eat.
Here’s the issue I take with all of this, besides the fact that I’m not really a marketing person. The hard truth is that not everybody is going to have the number one podcast or the number one album or the number one book on the New York Times bestseller list. And guess what? That’s okay. That’s just the reality of it. There’s nothing wrong with you doing something because it’s your passion regardless of who is watching. Whatever happened to doing something just because it’s a part of who you are or because you want to reach a certain demographic to help them feel less alone or just for laughs? If you constantly equate yourself with a number and you count on that number to give you your value and self-worth, you will never be happy because the anxiety of looking over your shoulder at every turn to make sure there’s a crowd of people following you, will kill the joy out of what you intended to do in the first place. And a number does not define how successful you are. You define how successful you are. You get to decide what success means to you. It’s very important to keep in mind that we all are going to fail at some point, at something, and some of us will not make the cut in terms of the world’s standards.
I’ll tell you a quick story. There once was a sort of famous singer that I won’t name, that was playing an event in Asheville, North Carolina. They had forgotten to bring something that was really important and their personal assistant had happened to come down with the flu, so they decided to hop in their car and drive to the local Walmart with a few friends to get this particular product they needed. At the checkout line, the cashier happened to notice the singer and she gushed, “Oh my God, oh my God!, I heard you were playing in town and I wanted to get tickets but I couldn’t get a sitter for my daughter…I sing, too, you know,” she said nonchalantly. The famous singer replied, “Oh really, do you mind singing right now or will your manager get upset?” “Hell no, I’ll sing you a few songs!” There in the middle of Walmart, this cashier belted out Aretha Franklin, Jennifer Hudson and Whitney Houston songs absolutely effortlessly. The famous singer said, “Well, I can’t make any promises but I certainly can you get you heard by a few people.” She looked puzzled and said, “Babydoll, I sing for Jesus. I sing in my church on Sunday. I’m not looking for a record deal. I just wanted to let you know that I’m a singer too and I know the joy it brings to your soul when that music moves through you. It’s a really spiritual experience. I sing for God and I sing for myself and oh yeah maybe a few people here on the checkout line, too,” she chuckled.
Here was a woman working in retail that had an opportunity to maybe get a better gig. Some people may call her flat-out stupid. But she was just singing because singing is what she does. It was a gift that was given to her by God and in return she gives it back to Him and, from time to time, some lucky people that happen to get on her line. No, she’s not concerned with Instagram followers or Facebook likes or going viral. After all the commotion on the checkout line, she shared that she was actually going to school to be a nurse. She loved working at the hospital and singing songs to the patients to brighten their day.
So while being Taylor Swift might be really cool and it’s fun to imagine ourselves with millions and millions of dollars, what I learned is that it’s the small things in life that really make the biggest difference. You don’t have to have a number one hit record and be performing at the Grammy’s to be someone. You can perform on a Walmart checkout line, or you can perform in church or a hospital room for someone who is scared and just needs a comforting song to get them through the night.
I can’t tell you what to do with the gifts that you’ve been given. That’s for you to decide and pray about, but what I can tell you is that not everybody has to have the number one in front of their name in order to be successful or of value or of significance. It’s often the quiet ones, that sing their song in obscurity, that shine the brightest.
Sometimes (or often), the fatigue or pain of your illness means you aren’t able to leave your bed — and that’s OK. You’re taking care of your body while it gets the rest it needs. But, let’s be honest — it’s not easy to keep yourself entertained in bed all day, especially if you have a chronic illness that requires frequent stay-in-bed days
So, we asked our Mighty community to share what they do to keep themselves occupied while they’re too sick or in too much pain to leave bed. They revealed some creative (and relaxing) ideas that can help keep your mind busy without hurting your body. Share your own ideas in the comments below.
Here are the ideas they shared with us:
1. “Having to go from outdoor enthusiast and adventurer to being bedridden and having days filled with chronic pain and symptoms was terribly devastating. Something as simple as bird feeders out my windows has kept me in touch with nature and photographing visiting birds keeps me feeling useful. On difficult days, this disconnects me from being overwhelmed by chronic illness.”
2. “Netflix is my best friend. I’m always binge watching new shows. ‘How I Met Your Mother’ is my current indulgence. I’ve watched ‘Bones’ probably six times all the way through.”
3. “I studied biology at uni, so I pull out the textbooks I never read and learn something new. If it’s an old concept, I might go read some research papers on more recent discoveries. This, plus the documentaries section of Netflix makes it feel like I’ve done something productive (learning), even if I can’t move.”
4. “I decided to take up crochet. Turns out that I am actually pretty good at it. In the seven months since I started crocheting, I have designed and written multiple patterns, one of which has been downloaded around 50,000 times on Ravelry… Finding something creative to engage your mind is key to surviving the bad days with a positive mindset.”
5. “I edit pictures on my phone using tons of different apps. Photography is my passion, and I love editing pictures that I take and coming up with new designs to go with them. It’s really relaxing.”
6. “Knitting. I had a friend ask if I could knit the squares that could be sewn into blankets for domestic violence victims who have to leave with minimal belongings. So she donated the yarn. Knitting is my relaxant.”
7. “I’ve started trying watercolors. Found some cheap supplies at Michael’s. Got watercolor paper $5, watercolor paint $5 and watercolor brushes $5.”
8. “Get some good books, preferably ones with large font so you don’t get a headache along with the body pain.”
9. “In-bed yoga is something I love. It loosens up my joints and I really need that with fibromyalgia.”
10. “I love to blast music and write…with my furry companion. I write whatever I’m feeling sometimes poems or songs. Sometimes it’s just font work but it always helps, and gets out a lot of pent up feelings. The music choice also reflects the pain.”
11. “I think it’s really important to invite friends/family to come and sit with you even if it’s just to watch TV because you’re too tired to socialize. People sometimes ask what they can do to help and the biggest thing is helping us keep from being too isolated. We need company and socialization. Maybe even video chats would be a good idea!”
12. “I have begun sketching, it’s not only something to distract me but I’ve found some great satisfaction from doing something that produces an end product, so I can look at it and see I have at least achieved something.”
13. “I get on social media and congratulate people who achieved goals, encourage those who are trying, and tell people they are beautiful. Lifting up others always makes me feel better.”
14. “Reading cheesy teen fantasy lit. They’re mindless and formulaic enough that you can still follow the story even if you’re distracted by pain and/or on some righteous meds that don’t quite knock you out, but interesting enough that you’re entertained for a few hours.”
15. “I love my Flutter and Flutter: Starlight apps for when I’m stuck in bed all day. They’re like a butterfly garden at your fingertips and there’s always something to do on the app. Very calming as well!”
16. “My awake hours are spent perusing Asos and Beauty Bay, putting together outfits for after I have heart surgery. It sounds like nothing, but for the short time I’m awake, it helps.”
17. “I color. A lot. Lots of books and even way more pens/pencils. Sometimes I tell myself just an hour or two but before I know it the whole day has slipped by and I’m still coloring.”
18. “I would say hobbies that you can find at the front of any Barnes and Noble store. Knitting, plate decorating, origami, painting, cooking, model building, card making, wreath making, etc. I even play with kids toys because I have a young daughter but it helps me as well. I find Play-doh, kinetic sand, and coloring and spin art is a great de-stressor and relaxer.”
19. “I’ve just started a three-month free trial of Audible. Really enjoying ‘reading’ without the fatigue actual reading causes.”
20. “I look for online deals for items to help homeless people. I am slowly (as I have a very low income through SSD) making kits to give homeless people. The kits will have some needs as well as some ‘fun/want’ items that I’m sure they rarely get.”
21. “I’ve gamed since I was 3 years old for pain, it’s so immersive and distracting, and became a huge hobby for me to be a character or avatar that was like me, without my pain or illness, and it made things easier to cope with.”
22. “Duolingo, it’s an app to learn new languages in a game format.”
23. “Listen to podcasts! There are podcasts for every taste. And, as a bonus, some hosts’ voices put me peacefully to sleep.”
24. “I enjoy YouTube a lot. Makeup tutorials especially. I play in my makeup a lot trying to duplicate the things I watch. I just sit up in bed. Or sit in a chair in front of my mirror if I’m having a good day.”
25. “Never hurts to try to learn more. Choose a random Wikipedia entry and start reading. Wikipedia is fun because you can often start on one topic and easily find yourself on another topic far far away.”
Last year I started a podcast around this time and one of my first posts was about dealing with the holiday season when you are chronically ill, or if you like — depressed, grieving, anxious, sick, tired and sick and tired.
It’s a tough time of year for a lot of us and now the rest of the world gets to join in. After this pandemic, we are seeing so many economic problems, that it seems the holidays are going to be challenging for not just those of us with chronic illnesses, but for everyone.
As I have mentioned in previous blogs and podcast episodes, we see all the decorations, fun commercials with people opening gifts and sitting at a table with tons of food and happy smiles and we find ourselves unable to relate. Who is missing from our table this year that makes our smile go away? How many people are choosing to pay the rent and mortgage over buying gifts and presents. How many people can’t afford a table full of food?
For those of us who deal with living sick, mentally and/or physically, this has been our challenge year after year. How to have a “happy” holiday in the midst of misery, lack or limitation. And the answer is this: You can have whatever holiday you want to have. It doesn’t have to be happy or jolly or fun. You don’t have to make a turkey or stuffing or have pumpkin pie.
The year my grandma died, my mother and I were not feeling very festive, so we decided to sleep in on Christmas and then went into the city to see a play. It remains one of my favorite Christmases to date. There was no tinsel, no turkey, no extravagance and no house full of people. It was simple, distracting and dare I say a little fun. We defied tradition, while Elphaba, the green witch in Wicked, defied gravity.
If staying home and ordering Chinese food and watching Netflix is more fun than being with family or more affordable for you, then do that. Or have a potluck celebration where everyone brings something.
If you are going to be alone, find a way to make yourself feel comforted. Maybe it’s staying in bed watching a favorite movie or maybe it’s going to a movie theater. Maybe it’s spending some time on Zoom with a friend or family member in a different state or maybe it’s calling a mental health support line. Do what you need to do.
The idea is that we don’t have to force ourselves to be happy because the season changes. We also don’t want to wallow in negativity either. We are accepting that life is what is, that sometimes we can’t change things, though we wish we could and then we go from there, taking the next step to do something that feels good or offers us a temporary distraction. Then, we get up tomorrow and do it again, until hopefully, we find ourselves in a better place.
Check out the latest episodes of Chronically Creative on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts
Whenever I start seeing red, (pun intended) I get it down on paper. So here we go…
The past few weeks I have been forced to confront the fact that I have developed another disorder – Republican Intolerance. It’s pretty bad. So bad infact, that it might be untreatable…AND permanent.
It all started when I began looking for a house to rent in Florida for a few months. I got the name of a realtor who does long-term rentals and was trying to figure out a polite way to tell her that if I had to rent a home in neighborhood with a bunch of Trumpians/Republicans, I’d feed myself to the gators.
She kindly told me that, “It was not that bad” and that she was a lesbian who did not care for Trump, but her wife supports him along with their many friends. (Insert indignant emoji here)
It took everything in me not to tell her how many things were wrong with what she had just told me. I tried not to use obscenities and hang up on her. “Well, thank you so much,” I said. “I have your number. No need to call me. I’ll call you. Bye now.”
On to YouTube. I figured there might be some good information on there about places to live in Florida that weren’t cult territory. Reading the comments on a video titled, “10 Reasons for New Yorkers to Move to Florida” was eye opening. “Please stay in NY and kiss Cuomo’s ass,” one person wrote. Another, “I’m black, gay, Republican and can’t wait to get my first fire arm.” Again, I practiced restraint in almost telling him his party hates him and wants him dead. Seriously, dude, have you been watching the news lately? And lastly, “We don’t want New Yorkers down here turning our state blue.” Seems like the intolerance was mutual. (Crosses Florida off of the list as potential places to live)
Moving on to a person who decided to utter the words to me, “Biden is ruining this country!” My heart started pounding, my stomach twisted – I could feel my insides shifting as if I were about to turn green like the Incredible Hulk. I lost my shit. “What is he ruining?! He’s been in office less than 100 days and has already done more than that fat orange prick you voted for! What is it that you don’t like? Covid relief? Competency in leadership? Someone who respects The Constitution? Truth-telling? Job creation? Solid infrastructure?” Then the ringing in my ears started and I no longer could hear what I was saying. It was like an outer body experience.
I, like so many other Americans, have become Republican Intolerant. Being in short proximity to a right-wing crazy, causes me to have explosive outbursts. Listening to them speak will cause me to spew flames and levitate out of my body. As far as I know, there is no cure for it.
All joking aside, after being lied to, cheated and screwed for many years by the former leader of the free world who led an insurrection against our capitol, on top of a global pandemic that was severely mismanaged, causes what many people know as the anxiety disorder PTSD. The world has become a traumatizing place and Republicans are not doing anything to help the situation. They make it worse.
There is a saying that goes, “Show me who your friends are and I will show you who you are.” And it’s usually true. I have said many times that our politics inform who we are and what decisions we make. So, show me who you voted for, continue to support and I will tell you what kind of person you are. People say don’t talk about politics and religion, yet these two things can tell you so much about who a person is.
The far right, who usually are self-proclaimed “Christians,” are delusional liars who want to build a shrine to Trump and stuff their pockets with tons of money while our country goes down the drain. There is no regard for their oath to protect and defend the constitution – there is no constitution for them. They are the law. Trump is the law. Another black person dies senselessly and they don’t care. Another mass shooting and nobody bats an eye.
They hate the LGBTQ community, trying to deny us our rights at every turn. They want to defund healthcare that benefits people with disabilities and the elderly and the underprivileged. They are horrible people. But wait a minute, how can you say that you might say? You don’t know me. Well, I looked at who you say you are. I look at what you voted for, what you support – what you say you think is good. I see the way you ignore suffering and perpetuate it. I hear your lies. I see your willful ignorance and willingness to turn a blind eye at the expense of your neighbor. Pretty self-explanatory. Oh, yes, and I don’t get my information from Fox News.
I wish I could find a cure for my Mast Cell Activation Syndrome. I hope there is a cure for diabetes in my lifetime. I pray to be cured of food allergies. I don’t really care if I am ever cured of my Republican Intolerance, though. I don’t think we should tolerate hatred, bigotry, compulsive lying, senseless murder, a disregard for the poor and unfortunate and sick. I think developing Republican Intolerance is maybe a sign that we are still alive and still striving for the good in the world. I disagree that we all can or should unify. Some things cannot be united. Those seeking a dictatorship should leave our democratic country and live in Russia. Not try to overthrow our government and shit all over our Constitution. Rather than unify, we should expel the waste of this country. The people who just cause suffering and hardship year after year, while collecting large salaries and a hefty benefits package – removing those who take up seats in our government but do nothing with them but benefit themselves. I believe only then will we be able to start to heal the deep wounds of this country. Only then can we ease our PTSD.
This is not a rant on how the Democratic Party is better and superior. I’m questioning why, in a free country where you can be anything, why be a Republican?
Marina Berzins McCoy’s new book, The Ignatian Guide to Forgiveness, may be one of the best resources for spiritual health available to people who are wounded. I have read various books on forgiveness over the years (We always need help with that, don’t we?) and will probably continue reading books about it. We will need to keep reading about forgiveness and working on it, because it is not simple and the subject forces us to confront difficult truths. Just because Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms to forgive does not mean this is an easy command to obey. Actually, I don’t recall the Bible ever saying that it’s easy or simple to follow God’s way; I guess we superimpose our desires on Scripture in this and many other ways. We fret and fight the reality that forgiveness is complicated and difficult.
Forgiveness also messes with time, which is an aspect of forgiveness that Marina handles so well in her book.
Until we reconcile ourselves to the fact of spiritual timelessness, we will be consistently frustrated with not only forgiveness but also other facets of spiritual growth. With God, everything is present tense and eternal. Time does not put restrictions on the Holy Spirit, who works through our every experience of time: past, present, and future.
Also—and this is really important—Divine Love is not anxious about time. In fact, I suspect that Divine Love is never in a hurry either, because God holds everything in mercy, and the will of God’s love will never give up on us. So if it takes me a lifetime to recover from some horrible wrong done to me, God is not anxious over this. Nor does God condemn me for this slow unfolding. As long as I am working with the Holy Spirit and allowing love’s process to take place in me, Divine Love is pleased. God is not surprised by how slowly I progress or how easily I become tripped up or stuck. Love overcomes all of this.
God’s love works outside of space and time, which is good for us, because probably every person leaves this life with wounds unhealed and spiritual growth still in progress. Our life with God is not static but living and evolving—inside and outside of time—as we become more and more who God created us to become.
One of the hardest truths about forgiveness is that the future after forgiveness often does not look much like anyone’s ideas about it. We might, for example, imagine that once forgiveness and reconciliation arrive, we will go back to some past time—perhaps real only in our fantasies. Alternatively, we may try to determine what the future looks like by placing restrictions on what forgiveness might look like or on what shape or form healing must have. Sometimes we have to let go of the past and let go of the future if we are to see where God is leading us in the present moment. (82)
For me, learning to live in the present has also meant making friends with time. Part of me can still sometimes resist the very notion that the past is not subject to being relived and “done over” again, only this time without mistakes. . . . But while God gives us the gift of forgiveness, this does not come in the form of an infinite number of do-overs. Sometimes our spouses, friends, parents, and children do give us a real chance to try again, this time in the right way. When this happens, it is a great blessing. But we cannot always keep pushing the rewind button and trying again. For this we should be thankful; otherwise, life might never move forward at all! (85–86)
We need to forgive and be forgiven, because wrong has been done. We do damage, and that damage is not undone. Sin has its effects. Jesus returned in a resurrected body that still bore its scars. The wounds of his Crucifixion were not undone, and the wounds we cause or suffer are not undone either. But we continue our transformation anyway.
May we consider forgiveness an experience that is continuing and unlimited. Perhaps then we can be patient with it and yet never cease to engage with it.
On last week’s podcast, I talked about how our limitations are not something to be ashamed of, but are part of our humanity — things we need to accept or embrace. Society is often unaccepting of things like limitations.
Another unpopular trait is vulnerability. And, I believe, in order to be truly accepting of our limitations, we need to be vulnerable. It is what makes us real and authentic. It gives people a candid look into our souls, so yeah, it can be really uncomfortable, but it has the ability to enhance all of our relationships. It adds color to our experience.
How often do we say to someone, “Hey, I like you” or ” You know, today I am feeling sad. You see, my mother passed away a few months ago and I’m having a really hard time today.” How about, “I feel ashamed of the weight I’ve gained.” How many times in the past year have you told a friend or loved one that you really enjoyed their company or admire them for x,y,z? Have you ever disclosed to a trusted friend or coworker that you struggle with depression or anxiety? These things would be considered being vulnerable.
Understandably, we want to be careful who we are vulnerable with. Not everyone is a good person to reveal our sore spots to. Some people can be cruel or irresponsible with the information we give them, not being mindful of our privacy. But in general, there are many ways to be vulnerable that do not leave us open to harm…..well, other than maybe a bruised ego.
We also wouldn’t go around telling everyone our deepest, darkest secrets and feelings as it would be inappropriate to do so. Nor do we want to be “whiney” and overbearing with our emotions.
Vulnerability is like a spice. Just as seasonings bring our food to life and makes them tasty and fun to eat, so vulnerability can add zest and zing to our lives and relationships. But if we overuse it, it can make everything…”yucky.” Too much of a good thing is, well, too much.
Author Brené Brown describes vulnerability like this:
So, ask someone out, tell a loved one how much they mean to you and why, open up about your feelings and emotions to those around you. You might feel awkward or exposed, because you are — but it will get easier and it could lead to something wonderful happening.
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Thanksgiving will be different this year. As I write this, in early November, the United States is experiencing a new and frightening spike in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, along with a rising number of deaths due to the virus. My husband and I will not be traveling to sit at table with family. As we have done for months, we will love our loved ones from a distance.
These months of shutdown and relative isolation have prepared me for the cherishing and the awe named by Christopher de Vinck when he writes, “Cherish what is simple. Be in awe of what is great.” (The Center Will Hold) My busy city life has become simplified: no riding public transportation several days a week; shopping is limited to groceries and some online purchases; we have dared to eat out just a few times at one or two places that maintained strict rules for preventing virus spread—no more running to a favorite place because one of us doesn’t feel like cooking. No more concerts or lively walks downtown—which is like a ghost town these days.
Our life is contained in our home, with the two of us, two dogs, and two cats. Our “going out” this summer meant long evenings on the back porch, which unexpectedly morphed into a retreat space. Although I’ve always enjoyed my moments of sitting in our small backyard, these past months have helped me hone that ability to cherish what is simple and right in front of me.
You may not have a porch or a yard. You may live alone, which makes such shutdown times even harder. But there exist in your life some simple pleasures, and you can celebrate them as this non-traditional Thanksgiving approaches. Perhaps you have photos and other memorabilia to help you celebrate past joys and past/present relationships. It’s likely that you have learned how to meet others through digital media—and you’ve discovered that it’s quite a nice way to spend time with people who cannot be in the room with you. Maybe you’ve learned to cook—or to cook with more joy and creativity than before. Some of us have finally had time to read the books we didn’t have time for before. Or we decided to get busy with a new hobby. Or we started a new ministry in the midst of the needs all around us.
Gratitude and Awe
Earlier this week, I drove my husband to the entrance of a hospital so he could be tested for COVID, in preparation for a procedure he’s having soon. We pulled into the semi-circular drive and were greeted by hospital personnel, all dressed up in their PPE. They were calm, friendly, gave clear directions, and handled the work quickly and efficiently. They acted as if they had spent their careers reaching through open car windows to swab people’s nasal passages—all of it outside exam rooms, with everyone wearing masks. These healthcare workers simply carried on and reassured us as they did so. I was in the driver’s seat, weeping. Weeping with gratitude and awe at what the healthcare workers in this country have done for months, day after day, serving the rest of us, taking care of us, carrying the brunt of this horrible pandemic.
What’s happening in the world on so many fronts is too big to grasp, to make sense of, or to understand in any satisfying way. God does not ask us to understand what is huge and frightening and outside our control. God simply asks that we hold in awe the divine love that continues to hold the world together. This divine love meets us in our private prayer, as the Holy Spirit speaks with us and comforts us. This divine love meets us in hospital driveways in the form of healthcare professionals doing their jobs. This divine love shows up in the various organizations around the world that have shown incredible innovation to provide food for people out of work and out of chances. It shows up in neighborhood programs that have sprung up spontaneously to meet the challenges of this time—neighbors checking on one another to be sure they are well and have the food and other things they need. Divine love shows up in the musicians, artists, actors, writers, designers—and so many others who have offered their work to us virtually, just to help us all keep going.
May we stand in awe of how the heart of this universe continues to beat and how we keep learning how to love one another and dwell with grace in our lives.
Cherish what is simple. Be in awe of what is great. That’s a pretty good plan.
Vinita Hampton Wright serves as managing editor of the trade books department of Loyola Press. She has written various fiction and non-fiction books, including the novel Dwelling Places with HarperOne, Days of Deepening Friendship and The Art of Spiritual Writing for Loyola Press, and most recently, Small Simple Ways: An Ignatian Daybook for Healthy Spiritual Living. Vinita is a student and practitioner of Ignatian spirituality, and from 2009 to 2015 she blogged at Days of Deepening Friendship. For the past few years, she has co-led small groups through the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises. She lives in Chicago with her husband, three cats, and a dog. In her “spare” time these days, she is working on her next novel.