November remembrances: Guided from darkness to light by those who have gone before us

My November column for The Catholic Free Press and Catholicmom:

With November comes the descent into the cold and darkness of the forthcoming winter. After an extended period of warmth and sunshine it is difficult to see the barren trees and lifeless gardens. Birds are flying south and chipmunks are scurrying about, gathering nuts for the winter before setting into hibernation. Nighttime exceeds the daylight hours; many of us will only see the morning sun as we head into work only to be greeted by darkness when we go home. The world around us is preparing for winter sleep. November feels like death.

Artur Rydzewski, “Cranes migration,” Flickr Creative Commons

Darkness into light

Yet, come December 21, the trend changes. After the shortest day of the year, daylight begins to increase. Ice, snow and cold engulf us and yet, each day is a little longer. The silence of January is replaced by birdsong in February. By March 21, we are celebrating the coming of spring.

Nature is a sign of God’s promise to those who believe in Him. Each year the seasonal cycle reminds us that even as we descend into darkness, we emerge again into the light.

Du Ende, “Dusk,” Flickr Creative Commons

Pondering heaven

The Church has designated this month of November as a time to pray for our beloved dead. It can be a difficult and somber time as we are reminded of our grief. Yet at the same time, it is a time of hope, the recent Feast of All Saints being the perfect example. We celebrate those saints, known and unknown, who have gone before us and who intercede for us. The readings from the day’s liturgy help us to focus on the glory that awaits us if we continue to persevere. Although no living person has seen heaven, still, it is enjoyable to ponder on the mystery even as a clear picture eludes us. Our hope is based upon the promise that we will rise, as did Christ, in a glorified body, freed forever from suffering and sorrow. Sainthood is the eventual end, and beginning, for all believers.

Moving through our season of darkness

November reminds us that all must pass through the winter of suffering and death first, along with the purification of Purgatory. There is no way to avoid these winters even if we are fortunate enough to die in our sleep. We are aware of the aging of our bodies with all its aches and pains. The mind becomes dulled and emotions are magnified. Disease exacts great suffering. We lose family and friends to death and feel increasingly isolated as our world becomes smaller. Those who care for aging loved ones suffer as well, often feeling powerless in the relentless march towards the inevitable. Clinging to the hope given to us by God becomes the existential challenge. Truly there is martyrdom in aging.

Billie Greenwood,
“In the Winter of My Life, I Bloomed,” Flickr Creative Commons

It is a journey from death to life even as Christ suffered on the cross and died. He endured the agonies of mind, heart and body. He also rose to life again in a glorified body. While many of us will need to go through a period of purification after we die in order to prepare for sainthood, we can find comfort in the fact that many living souls are praying for us and holding us close to their hearts. Springtime will come.

Remembering those who have gone before us

November reminds us of the importance of remembering loved ones who have died. We can actively pray for them and help them through their journey of Purgatory. They can know the comfort of our companionship through their suffering.

Remembering those in our midst

November also reminds us of the need to draw close to our suffering elderly. As difficult as it can be to confront aging and the dying process, there is a profound sacredness in offering our love and care. They are going before us, acting as our guides. Those who cling to the hope of God’s love demonstrate how to let go of life while remaining engaged in it, entering into the unknown of death with courage and grace. No lesson is more important.

November is a month of grey skies and blustery winds. It is also a month to ponder the greatest of all mysteries – life, death, and resurrection. As we pray for those living and those gone on before us, let us embrace these mysteries in all that we do.

Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA; photo by Susan Bailey

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Another great discovery right under my nose!

Remember when I posted about discovering a little piece of heaven across the street from my house? After living there for twelve years?

Looks like I’ve found another treasure in my town. Continue reading “Another great discovery right under my nose!”

Healing begins with knowledge: understanding the emotional impact of IC

JUNE 29, 2016 – Last week I wrote about dejection; today it’s anxiety. This current season of feelings, beginning with extreme aggravation, moving towards dejection and now morphing into anxiety has me quite puzzled. After this past weekend I needed to step back and try to understand just what was going on,

Last week I anticipated a wonderful weekend away with my husband at Hampton Beach, NH. I looked forward to the carnival atmosphere, the gorgeous pristine beaches along Route 1A, the shops and restaurants, and finally, the Happy Together Tour featuring singers and bands of the 1960s (The Turtles, The Cowsills, Mark Lindsay, Billy J. Kramer, Chuck Negron and Gary Puckett).

hamptonbeach

Happy-Together-Cover

The weather was perfection – upper 70s with a refreshing onshore wind. My husband and I have needed this time together after the last hectic few months.

And yet during the trip I was overcome with anxiety. Why?

I have continued to ask God for healing as I pray for friends and family as I sensed I needed those prayers. Just as the book lifted me up and out of myself, prayers for healing uncovered information that related directly to my anxiety. It came from a most unexpected source.

I am researching a biography at the moment and have several years’ worth of notes. They need organizing so today I attended to that.  In the course of the task, I came across an article called “The Psychological Effects of IC.”

ICJust what is IC? Short for Interstital Cystitis, IC is a painful and chronic urinary condition. When paired with Overactive Bladder (which I also have) sufferers experience sudden urges to urinate. If you are not near a bathroom, it can be an excruciating experience both physically and emotionally. It can be quite embarrassing as well. Over time you are conditioned to place the needs of your bladder above all else. I go nowhere now without immediately scouting out bathrooms.

It took years to have this condition diagnosed. Heck, it took years to get a doctor to take my complaints seriously! I took meditation for the Overactive Bladder but it did nothing for the IC. Over time I learned what foods to avoid. The discovery of AZO products (especially Bladder Control Go Less) finally began to bring my IC under control, at least during the daytime. Nighttime is another story (and for another day).

What I have discovered about IC is that it is triggered by stress and anxiety. Going away from home is a sure-fire way to trigger it. If you are not sure where the next bathroom is, you are going to obsess over finding one. Such stress triggers flare ups and before you know it, you’re in a vicious cycle.

What I did not know, however, was that there are long term emotional consequences, something I had begun to suspect after coming home from our weekend. The article I stumbled upon today confirmed that suspicion:

“Although IC is a physiological disease, the effects are emotional. The pain of IC automatically induces an emotional response … The messages from the bladder pain can make a patient feel upset, emotional and depressed as a result.”

In my case, it’s panic. And that’s what I kept experiencing in the lovely yet unfamiliar setting of Hampton Beach, NH. That, and hyper-vigilance:

“IC patients may be seen as emotionally laden victims of a traumatic experience demonstrating hyper-vigilant behavior (the need to be on guard against harm), instead of a person in need of medication to calm the unsettling symptoms of interstitial cystitis.”

This may sound a bit dramatic but the fact it that it is true. This article described my experience to perfection. There was more:

“IC is a daily responsibility … it is not a situational stress that will resolve in time. And, even though most of us build a certain amount of tolerance to the everyday bladder sensitivity (not the painful flare-ups), we still have to place our bladder needs first.”

The world with IC can become very small. And, problems can seem too big to overcome. Sometimes the limitations can make us feel stuck, sometimes with no hope for the future.”

anxietyMy world has definitely shrunk as demonstrated by the tremendous anxiety I experience whenever I have to go away. I am a confirmed homebody—no trip to Europe for me. I chaperone confirmation retreats twice yearly and each weekend is a constant struggle with anxiety-induced obsessive and compulsive tendencies that interfere with my work on the retreat. Finally I have a better understanding of WHY.

I reflected a bit before sharing this blog post. IC and Overactive Bladder are hardly things spoken about freely in polite company. I don’t even know anyone who has it though I know it’s common. So why share this with you?

  • First of all, because someone out there might also be a sufferer and perhaps, this information can be helpful to them.
  • Secondly, to show that healing that comes through God’s grace is more often revealed in steps rather than granted miraculously. But just because a healing unfolds rather than effects an instant cure doesn’t make it any less miraculous in my mind.

I am convinced that because I approached God in prayer for healing (even though I didn’t specify what the healing ought to be) that he gave me the mindfulness to pay attention to this article when I found it.

We’re told that knowledge is half the battle. I believe that. This knowledge has given me great relief.

  • I’m not going crazy.
  • There is a reasonable explanation.
  • Now I know what to ask for in prayer for my healing.

This wave of anxiety will, in fact, pass. And when I feel it return, I know where to go and Who to ask when I need help.

p.s. Those of you suffering from Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – there is something for you in “The Psychological Effects of IC.” Something tells me we have walked down a similar path.

 

 

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Reaching my weight loss goal through the toolbox of Grace

My latest Catholic Free Press column (June 17, 2016)

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Grace is invisible.

We feel its power pushing us forward, carrying us as does a river’s current. It takes us many places both serene and chaotic. It molds and shapes us. Yet there’s nothing concrete to grasp onto. We cannot dip our hands into its waters nor physically feel that current.

Or can we?

Continue reading “Reaching my weight loss goal through the toolbox of Grace”

Diving deep into River of Grace with Elizabeth Reardon, host of “An Engaging Faith”

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In this in-depth hour-long interview: we dive deep into River of Grace – gratitude in the midst of difficult times – obedience as a joyful “yes” to new adventures, new life after loss and restoring the joy of living, life metaphors for grace … Also, a quick sneak peak at Louisa May Alcott: Illuminated by The Message! Elizabeth Reardon really did her homework! Check it out.

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