This is the story of a new adventure of clearing my mind and of finding joy.  I need clarity and one way in which to achieve this I believe, (at least for now) is for me to deactivate my social media status.  I may come back in a month, six months or never.  I only promise to be true to me.

Facebook is, and has been a beautiful tool for me to connect with others and to share the love and the sorrows that I have experienced during the marriage and illness and beyond measure, the death of my husband.  It has been beautiful to see photos of families and friends and to catch up on current events in each other lives.  It also can have other ramifications.  It has been difficult to disengage from that life of caregiver but I trust that for me, this will be a true testimony to my inner strength.  Facebook has been a place to reconnect with old friends and to make new friends and though I do not to like to talk on the phone unless it’s necessary, I do e-mail.  So if you would like my private e-mail, please send me a message before my deactivation.

Social media has become obstructive and exclusive – I need more inclusiveness in my life and the demeaning nature of so many political posts of political rivals is something I personally can no longer tolerate.  This is not because I have one opinion or another – I believe we are each entitled to our own.  However, I don’t see opinions as being shared without tearing down one another.  And since I have many friends on both sides of the spectrum, it is easier said than done to scroll by.  I have the ability to remove myself from the toxicity and find it is rather empowering now that I’ve made the decision.  Negativity feeds negativity in ways that are unhealthy to me.

It is also with personal sacrifice to disengage what I have come to know as my life.  The something I thought I needed to do in order to heal and find joy again that in the continual support of others in the appendix cancer community.  I care so deeply, and so strongly for each and every patient and their caregiver that they also become a part of me and each new loss, each new struggle, becomes mine as well.  When you are used to being the caretaker, there is no balance in this – you live it and breathe it 24/7 because this is all you know.  I have chosen February 10, 2017 as the day for my Facebook deactivation.  It is the day my birth mom was born, and also one of my aunts.  It will be 2,306 days that we first heard Keith had cancer. It will be 26 months and one day that I said goodbye to my soul mate.  It will also become the date that I am able to say hello to him again as I honor him by finding joy in my life as he wished for me.  I have my own caregiver now …   I am beloved.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.

– Rumi

st-mary-of-the-lake-universitySilence!  Do you hear that?  A month ago if someone had said “no, it’s silent, how could I hear anything?” my response would have been, “well my mind is overflowing with noise, my heart is beating entirely too fast for my body to keep up and if you can’t hear the silent sobs, you’re not listening to me.”  Of course that conversation would have never taken place anywhere, at any time, except for this “safe” blog space.

Around this time of such mental torment my daughter asked me if I wanted to join her on a Beloved retreat with her church in January.  My first instinct was to say “no, I couldn’t – no, I don’t have the money – no, I like being anti-social – no, let me live in my misery because after all, doesn’t everyone like to cry every day and be sad?  Is there something wrong with that?  I knew that it was and I had previously committed (in my last blog in fact as a declaration that 2017 is my year) time to take care of me.  I said yes – my first REAL effort in keeping my promise to myself.

After my last blog and the hope for 2017 and feeling like I could gain the momentum that I need to make change in my life, it quickly went by the wayside as more sadness crept in and the loss of my mother in law, at the tender age of 89 and 8 months.  What a blessing she was in my life and just another chisel away at the heart that was broken.  But I was and am thrilled for her.  She made it to the Promised Land.

I’d never been on a retreat before.  I was not sure what to expect.  For the most part I think it was what I envisioned, but I could never have imagined that I NEEDED this.  Well, maybe a little I did imagine it.  Last Spring I wrote about a 3-day talk that happened at my daughter’s church and how exhilarating and promising that it was.  Then life got messy again for me and then joyful when my daughter got married and then really, REALLY messy again when I moved.  Sometimes I would ask my daughter if she was going to mass on a Sunday and she didn’t know for sure if she was going to go where the children go to school or if they would make it to Holy Family, which for me would be 43 miles away.  She would always follow her response with “why, did you want to go”?  Mostly at that minute, when I would ask, I wanted to go – I wanted to make an effort to overcome what was happening to me.  Busy is as lame excuse as I could find I guess, and I just really never made the effort.  After all, I really hadn’t participated in the Catholic Church for many, many years – say, 1986?  There are a lot of reasons for this, perhaps for another time, but one reason was I had at one time joined the Lutheran Church.  Keith was also raised in the Lutheran faith but we weren’t Sunday church goers.  We were both believers and spiritual by nature, but we fulfilled each other on a different spiritual level.  We knew God loved us.  I have never doubted that for a minute.

Back to the retreat which was, by the way, offered to anyone regardless of religion, or having no faith at all, race, sexual orientation, and political views … it was inclusive.  Yes, the Catholic Church, embodied by scripture is inclusive.  The more I learned and read about this, the more interested I became.  I am definitely an inclusive person and for me, much of why I just didn’t attend services.  I have to say … one thing I learned and one thing I absolutely loved and will carry with me forward is that “you can church anywhere”.  If you gather together in community you can do “good church” without a building even!  Yes, this was the kind of retreat that I belonged at!  Spread love – beloved.

I cannot and will not say that this retreat healed me.  I will carry the heavy burden of grief with me through all the days of my life, but I intend to lose the heavy burden aspect.  I will bring it with me when I do GOOD CHURCH and bring it to the altar and leave it there, little by little.   My daughter hung pretty close to her mom during the entire experience, knowing that I’m really an introvert and it’s hard for me to start conversation.  Holy Moly!! I had to stand up and say my name several times and felt myself begin to sweat and voice crack and share what was heavy on my mind – but you know what?  I did it!  I listened to stories of people and what transformations were made in their lives by opening their hearts too.  I know not everyone is a believer in Him.  I love those people just the same.  But as for me, I know that I am never alone even in my loneliness.  I need community, I need “good church” and not just on Sundays.  I need to keep open my heart and truly listen in the silence to where I am being led.  No more conflicting noises that prohibit me from hearing what I need to hear.  My heart is wide open!

Miranda Lambert signs a song “The House That Built Me” and the first two lines are:

“I know they say you can’t go home again.  I just had to come back one last time” – oh yeah you can.  Right now, in this time, in this place, I am home again.

I won’t give many details of the retreat in this blog because there is something so precious and so monumental that was shared among 48 or 50 people and it is tucked into my heart so beautifully right now that I need to keep it there to continue to savor and digest.  But I promise you, no matter where you are in your spiritual journey, if you ever have the opportunity to attend a Beloved Retreat, do it because you will not regret it.

Having said that, The Seminary where the retreat was held had its beginnings in 1844, so you can imagine how old some of the buildings are.  One of the most incredible moments for me was an unseasonably warm January day into evening that created a pretty dense fog and we had a pilgrimage just from one building to the next.  The night air, illuminated by men and women holding lanterns in the fog to light our way (people who took time out of their Friday night to drive over an hour just to hold lanterns for us) created an atmosphere where I felt as though I were back in 1844 and the anticipation of embarking on this journey in the mist,among tall barren trees and the smell of old brick and mortar took me to a place I’ve never been before physically for sure, but spiritually.  As a believer, I was among disciples whose only wish was to be loved.  This pilgrimage of what was to come, down a stairway, into the darkness – into the light, I absolutely cannot describe what deep emotions were and are felt by me at this time.  My greatest desire is to keep this fullness in my heart going forward.  I want to continue to grow myself so that I may serve others with the hands I have been given.

I made a conscious decision, a vow, to try in earnest to let go of the sadness and to seek joy.  To remove myself as much as possible from the heaviness that weighs me down.  I have made the decision to make this blog more about gratitude, because I have so much to be thankful for.  I have a God and community who love me deeply even when I am a mess.  I learned I get do-overs on those days when I don’t get it right without judgment.  I have some ideas in my mind on how to give joy, how to receive joy and how to spread it.  My heart is open to wherever I am led.

I am so grateful that I was brought to this retreat by my daughter, as she herself blessed me with oil and sent me forth to give my light to others.  I am grateful to her Parish, Holy Family Catholic Community, for opening their hearts to me and to Old St. Pats in Chicago, who actually head these Beloved retreats, for teaching me how to do good church.

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