Tuesday, September 27, 2011


In spiritual direction, Ignatian Spirituality and the concepts of desolation and consolation come up.  A lot.  I’m still processing the meaning of desolation and consolation but I found this information, from the Loyola Press website, very helpful:
What do we mean when we talk of consolation and desolation? We are really only talking about our orientation, and the bottom line is this: which direction is our life taking us—toward God [consolation] or away from him [desolation]?
Here are some of the main symptoms of desolation and the most commonly experienced blessings of consolation.
·  turns us in on ourselves
·  drives us down the spiral ever deeper into our own negative feelings
·  cuts us off from community
·  makes us want to give up on things that used to be important to us
·  takes over our whole consciousness and crowds out our distant vision
·  covers up all our landmarks
·  drains us of energy
·  directs our focus outside and beyond ourselves
·  lifts our hearts so that we can see the joys and sorrows of other people
·  bonds us more closely to our human community
·  generates new inspiration and ideas
·  restores balance and refreshes our inner vision
·  shows us where God is active in our lives and where he is leading us
·  releases new energy in us

When Little C was born, she had a problem with her pancreas.  She was two months old and a patient at three different hospitals before she came home for the first time.  When I look back on this time in our lives, I try to have some perspective.  No question, we experienced desolation.  But things could have been a whole lot worse. One nurse at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia said to me, kindly but firmly, “Your child will live.  Other’s will not.”   In the end, we were moved by the Holy Spirit from a place of fear and negativity into consolation.   Life changing stuff.  
The problem with her pancreas caused c to have problems with her blood sugar which in turn caused her to have seizures in her first days of her life.  The seizures went away until, at age 2, she developed a seizure disorder.   About twice a year, c would have a “complex partial” seizure.  She usually had them at home, thanks be to God.    We tried various medications which had lots of terrible side effects but weren’t very effective in preventing her seizures.   The medications made it difficult for her to function normally, particularly at school.  After a lengthy discernment process, we decided to take c off the anti-convulsant medications.  That was in May of 2010.  Her last seizure that we know of was January 23, 2010.  Thanks be to God!  
Along the way, c had a few delays.  She was never “off the chart” for all those milestones that parents and doctors track but she definitely pushed the boundaries. Those days were also times of desolation and consolation.  At age 2 1/2, she started speech and occupational therapy.  She has made tremendous progress but still struggles in some areas.  We were very concerned when she entered kindergarten.  Would she keep up?  Would she succeed?  We didn’t know.   Little c’s teacher was quite devoted and she had a wonderful classroom aide, and two talented student teachers.  In fact, there was a whole team at c’s school concerned with helping her succeed.   She especially enjoyed learning to read and to write. (Like mother, like daughter.)  Math, not so much.  (Like mother, like daughter.)
She had such a successful kindergarten year that when 1st grade began, I wasn’t worried.  Not much, anyway.
But shortly after school started, we realized that c was having trouble staying focused when she was in a large group.  She did much better when receiving one on one attention or in a small group setting.  (Really, who doesn’t??)   Unfortunately staffing levels don’t allow for as much small group instruction in 1st grade as was available in kindergarten.  No one wanted Caroline to fall behind. We discussed lots of different options, even changing to private school or homeschooling.   It was a very stressful time.  I just wanted her to be “ok.”  Even the principal at her school said, “People should know how far this baby has come!”    
We knew that c was having the most trouble during math time.  As it turned out, I am able to drop Big C off at the high school and make it to the elementary just in time for math.  Sometimes I work one on one with Little c but other times I help other students while she works with her teacher.  Two days a week I stay for reading groups as well.  I went at first because I felt I had to but I had no idea how much I would love going.  I am learning so much from her teacher and from the children.  Little c enjoys me being there. The other children want to read to me and hold my hand when we walk down the hall. What an unexpected blessing!   
Meanwhile, Big C’s work load has really picked up.  He has some advanced classes and one AP class.  We’ve all experienced some growing pains.  I was really worried for him too.  I just wasn’t sure how to help him out.  I certainly would be of no help with Algebra II !
 I told my dad it felt like too much…I’d like to worry about only one child at a time, thank you very much!
After talking to each other and with quite a few educators, my mom, my dad and my friends, Michael and I decided it was time to circle the wagons and help each other out.  Michael made math games on the computer and Big C agreed to join us with Little C for Family (Math) Game Night.    Big C doesn’t enjoy reading as much as I do.  I am still hopeful he will learn to love it because reading is the greatest thing since sliced bread.  My friend suggested that joining a book club might help him learn to enjoy reading more, instead of reading for a grade, but we weren’t sure how to make that work.  Then we realized we could start our own family book club.  Next week C’s Advanced English class begins reading Fahrenheit 451 and so will Michael and I.  Michael and I are more excited about this than Big C but he is quite willing.  I’ll let you know how it goes. 
It’s quite odd how things work out sometimes.  I’ve always wanted to belong to a book club.  I just never guessed it would look quite like this.
 Today when I called my mother to tell her of our plans, I was feeling better.  I was energized and excited. Not so tired, frustrated and worried. In the end we decided that this had been a GOOD thing for my family…it is bringing us closer together as a family…it is bringing us into community with the teachers and educators at both schools in a different way than we have ever been before.  “You will all be the better for this.  It was just hard getting here.” I think that’s what she said.  C is also now emailing his rough draft writing assignments to my mom.  She taught English at the very high school he attends. Out of difficulty their relationship is expanding too.  She really, really liked the last essay he sent her and he was proud.  He told me last night, “I can’t wait to turn in my writing tomorrow.”  
This was all very unexpected and pretty darn cool.
I guess that’s how it works…this movement from desolation to consolation. 
I guess that’s how God works.
From isolation to community.
From  drained to energized.
Balance is restored. 
Inner vision is refreshed.
Thanks be to God.  

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

the roles we play

Got an email today with this subject line: 
Sycamore Begins Year 2 on Sept. 9 -- Welcome to The Art of Spiritual Direction.  
Although I was a participant last year in a Sycamore program called Contemplation in Every Day Life, what is set to begin on September 9 is a whole new ballgame.  What was an experience of being contemplative is now training for an art or ministry.   My mentor is now my supervisor.  Last year it was not possible to be right or wrong, and while I am sure that will be the spirit of this upcoming year, the word “critique” has come up and also, “constructive criticism.”  I know they love me.  I know the gentleness of each and every one of their hearts but I’d be lying if I told you I am completely anxiety free about September 9, 2011. 
And then there is this.  Tucked away in the middle of the email under the innocuous heading, “Scheduling conflicts,” I read this passage: 
The next two years of spiritual direction training involve important skill building, educational presentations, realplays/roleplays, small/large group work, Contemplative Group Engagement, and interactive practice of spiritual direction with the team and your peers.
Don’t like to do that. 
Not at all.     
Oh, but it’s FUN, you say.   It’s just pretend.  My grandmother would have said it’s “play actin’.” 
But here’s how “play actin’” usually turns out for me.  Last year for Halloween, Michael and I dressed as Magenta and Riff Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  Our costumes were dead on and Michael OWNED his. But I did not own mine.  I LOOKED the part but when asked to get in character and pose for photographs, I just could not pretend to BE Magenta.  I felt too self-conscious.  My costume was right on the outside but in the end, I didn’t have what it took on the INSIDE to pull it off. 
A few years before that, when Little C was a toddler and we had been cooped up for far too long, Michael and I took off alone for New Orleans and what we refer to as The Lost Weekend.  We had a great time.  I’ll leave it at that.  One evening on Bourbon Street, we were dancing to a (really good) live band.  A few Hurricanes in the wind, alone with my husband for the first time in what felt like years and having a blast dancing, I was having way too much fun…UNTIL… the lead singer plucked ME out of the crowd and up on stage.  I was 40 something years old and twenty something pounds heavier than I’d like and he made ME and the very sexy song he was singing TO ME the absolute center of attention. 
I wish I could say that the spirit of the Big Easy (and the Hurricanes!) carried me and I was able to play the part the singer clearly wanted me to play.  But I didn’t.  I froze.  I stood there.  I was a total snore. Can you say buzz kill?  It was awkward for everyone.  Don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying I should have flashed the crowd but I could have played along, just a bit.  I couldn’t wait for that song to end so I could disappear back into the anonymity of the crowd.      
That song still plays fairly often on the radio station I like to listen to while driving.   Although no one in the world except Michael and me (and now all of you) knew what happened that night, my face STILL turns beet red when I hear that song and I change the station just as quick as I can.   When the negative self talk in my head finally winds down, I wonder why in the world that singer picked me in the first place. 
The only thing I can come up with is that I must have appeared differently when I thought that Michael was the only person paying any attention to me.  For one thing, he’s my husband!  And I trust him implicitly.  But mostly, I know that he sees me differently than I see myself.  I know this because he’s told me so.  (Plus, he didn’t witness all those “awkward” years.  Pregnancy doesn’t count, only thick glasses and bad perms.)  You should ask someone who loves you to describe in depth how they see you.  I know that you will be blown away by what they say. My friend gave me “this” as a birthday gift this year.  She wrote me a love letter!   Try doing that for someone you love.   It really is the best gift, ever!   
The thing about participating in a program that teaches you to live more contemplatively is that, well, you begin contemplating things.  So, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the roles I have played in the past.   Some were a perfect fit and I relish them to this day.  Some used to fit just fine but now are outgrown, like my kid’s shoes from two months ago.  Sometimes we find ourselves in situations where someone else wishes to claim our cherished role!  How frightening is that to the ego?  Pretty darn scary!!!  “But I am the (smart one, pretty one, helpful one)!   Scoot over you, get out of my way and let me be ME.”
And then there are those roles that I would be glad to leave behind but for whatever reason I don’t. Sometimes I get really mad at my teenage self…my twenty something self…my thirty something self…my yesterday self… for playing roles that were/are limiting, self defeating, or outright soul f’ing crushing.  I get mad at myself and vow NEVER to allow that to happen again and then someone invites me to do something new and I say, “Oh no.  I CAN’T do that.  I’m too….”
Sometimes I blame others, insisting that they force these roles on me.  I verbalized that while in conversation with a friend just the other day.  “She needed me to be…”     But when we got off the phone, I had to ask myself if that was really true.   If I am truthful with myself, I will admit that I needed to play that role just as much as my friend needed me to play it.     
No one can force a role on me except me. Not really.  And no one can stop me from choosing a new role.
 No one except me, that is.   
I always have a choice.  And so do you.  Let’s contemplate that. 
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