“Do you want to be healed?” is a tricky question.

father-steven-labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from
Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

Today’s gospel reading (John 5:1-16) at the Pool of Bethesda where Jesus heals the man who had been lame for over thirty years struck a familiar chord. In that reading, Jesus asks a most obvious question: “Do you want to be healed?” He sensed that the man having been ill for so long, was stuck in that mode.

pool-of-bethesda-949739-print
The Pool of Bethesda

I remember hearing that question in my head when I had my throat blessed two years ago on the Feast of St. Blaise--that blessing healed my singing voice. Actually my answer to the question at that point was “No!”

Why the heck not??

I no longer wanted the responsibility associated with being a singer. It sounds ridiculous even as I write this but leading the singing at mass each week had become a grind. That’s what happens when you do it too long without a break. It was time to step aside and I used my lack of singing voice to do that. I sure as heck didn’t want my voice to come back–it would take away my excuse!

cantering

Eventually I came to understand that it was perfectly okay to take time away. I have only just returned to singing in church but this time as a member of the choir, without the leadership responsibility.

Get that elephant off of me!

Then there was the feeling of being stuck when it came to my weight. I felt like I had an elephant sitting on top of me–loosing weight seemed like an impossibility.

elephant on chest

A rare hour spent in church in front of the monstrance changed everything. The grace I received from that time of prayer helped me to gently prod the elephant to move away. He did and I was able to embrace my diet (which is now a chosen lifestyle). I’ve lost 22 of the 27 pounds that I wish to lose. That elephant will not visit me again.

Praying at home

As I wrote in my spiritual journal, “Is My Day Your Day,”  Even though I felt the insistent call again and again to stop, be still and pray, I could not get myself to do it. Again, it was time spent in adoration that caused that elephant to move away as well.

prayer corner4 smaller

True healing

I was healed: my voice came back, I lost the weight, I’ve started praying in my corner each morning and each night.

Healing removes burdens, not just of the physical ailment or stubborn mindset, but of the guilt and attachment associated with those things.

Sometimes it is there for so long that it becomes your identity. It can be a excuse to avoid doing something that is difficult. It definitely requires a truthful assessment of yourself and that can be painful.

All of that was true. But in each case, I experienced transformation. SO worth it!

Not such a simple question is it: “Do you want to be healed?”

For aids to your Lenten journey, visit the Lenten Resources page for posts, podcasts, music and videos.

00 twitter profile 400x400both books river first-640Join my Email List (special surprises just for you!)
to subscribe to this blog.
Keep up with news and free giveaways regarding Susan’s new books, River of Grace
and Louisa May Alcott: Iluminated by The Message!
Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read Susan’s blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

Find Susan’s books here on AmazonPurchase Susan’s CD.

Advertisements

Grief as a life-giving creative process

This is my latest column from The Catholic Free Press.

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

November can be a difficult month for many. The clocks roll back and the sun sets at 4:30. The temperatures cool and the last of the leaves fall to the ground. There are many cloudy, gray days.

Rosa Dik 009 --- November Golden Reflection ---, Flickr Creative Commons
Rosa Dik 009 — November Golden Reflection —, Flickr Creative Commons

November reminds us that we cannot escape our fate–we all die at some point. Our physical deaths can happen suddenly. Or our health may deteriorate over time, bit by agonizing bit. Dying may be the daily giving up of some part of ourselves that we cherish. Memories fade. Legs weaken and fail. We can barely check our email or turn on the TV because the technology overwhelms us.

rrchurches.com
rrchurches.com

November is the month we remember all those who have died and as a community, we lift them in prayer. It reminds us of the grief that never ends, perhaps bringing it forward just when we thought we had sent it to the back of our minds and hearts.

Grief is mysterious and capricious. It creeps up on us, explodes inside of us, in the most inopportune times and places. I can’t tell you how many times tears have suddenly sprung to my eyes in the middle of a crowded room. There is never a day that we forget our loved ones. Happy occasions make us long for them so that we can share our joy. Hard times see us reaching out in vain for those loving arms that would assure us that “everything will okay.”

Grief is a journey that demands our compliance. Resist, and we will pay the price of remaining stuck in that place of sorrow, bitterness and anger; we will die in our grief. Comply, and grief will recreate us; we will live again.

At the age of fifty-nine I have become the published author of not one, but two books, both of which are the products of my grief. When the journey began in 2010 after I lost my mother, I was too numb and worn out to resist– God’s grace beckoned me to go on grief’s journey. In the process, I discovered the life-giving creativity inherent in that journey, taking that which already existed and shaping it into something new and wonderful.

Any artist, writer, musician or dancer will tell you that excellence in the creative life requires a letting go of control–you must give yourself over to something bigger than yourself, and collaborate with that force which compels you to create. That force will demand that you dig deep for answers and that you be open to any possibility. Your heart must remain soft, supple, and vulnerable.

Beverly & Pack Aurora Borealis
Beverly & Pack Aurora Borealis, Flickr Creative Commons

Grief is that kind of creative force, demanding much the same.

I have no idea why I allowed myself to go with the flow of my grief journey. For some reason I was able to trust in God’s care and float down his river of grace. It was often a very confusing journey as I was given just enough knowledge to motivate me to continue, but no more; I was clueless as to where it would all lead. Sometimes the waters were rough. What I do know is that in the midst of my deep sorrow I found a wellspring of joy: “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”. (Luke 6:38, NIV). As a result, each day became part of an exhilarating adventure.

Death and mourning need not signal the end; our faith teaches us that it is in fact a beginning. During this month of All Souls, may we pray for those who have penetrated the veil, and ask for God’s river of grace to carry us through our grief and recreate us. In the words of Saint Paul from Romans 15:13: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

00 twitter profile 400x400both books river firstJoin my Email List (special surprises just for you!)
to subscribe to this blog.
Keep up with news and free giveaways regarding Susan’s new books, River of Grace
and Louisa May Alcott: Iluminated by The Message!
Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read Susan’s blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

Find Susan’s books here on AmazonPurchase Susan’s CD.

Leaping into the unknown: is it worth it? Just ask Bilbo Baggins.

During the fifteen years that I was a professional musician I went out on gigs, holding concerts and sometimes doing some public speaking. When my mother died in 2010, I stopped doing that sort of thing. Now, five years later, I’ve decided to dive back in.

It is not without fear and trepidation for I am rusty! While I had my years of experience to fall back on, I wasn’t sure I would remember how to do it. Something once familiar to me had become unknown territory.

Was it worth trying? Yes!

speaking to the women's group of st. rose of limaAn invitation

I was recently invited to speak to a group of women from the nearby parish of St. Rose of Lima in Northborough, MA. They were having their annual communion breakfast at the Juniper Hill Country Club. Ensconced in a lovely upper room with skylights and French doors, we feasted on a sumptuous brunch prepared by the staff which included thick French toast, scrambled eggs, bacon, ham with pineapple, fresh fruit and other delicacies. The women were very welcoming and I felt right at home with them. The staff was just as friendly and helpful as could be.

st rose of lima women's group2 4-19-15

I spoke on a subject near and dear to me: that of stepping out in faith and taking on the risk to live more deeply (see previous post).

Let’s go swimming!

Jonathan Morgan Follow Swimming in Småland, Flickr Creative Commons
Jonathan Morgan Swimming in Småland, Flickr Creative Commons

Using the water analogy of which I am fond, I gently challenged the women to “go swimming,” both in their faith lives and their daily lives (for it is after all, the same life). I talked of how sometimes we find ourselves on the surface of our lives, rather like sitting in a boat on the river. We observe life passing by us; we may even get a lot done while in our boats. But we never go into the water; we never actually get wet.

  • What would it be like if we got out of our boats and dove below the surface, into a deeper part of ourselves?
  • How would our lives change?
  • What would we see and what would we learn about the Spirit of God dwelling within us?
  • How could that deep dive teach us more about who we are and what we have to offer?
  • Are there risks involved?
  • Is it worth those risks?

Leaping into the unknown

from picturespost.blogspot.com
from picturespost.blogspot.com

I asked the women to recall a time when they were coerced by friends to go on the scariest ride in the amusement park. We all murmured and smiled as I described such a ride (in this case, on a water slide). I asked them to imagine how they felt:

  • Were they out of breath by the time they splashed safely into the pool at the end?
  • Were they mad at their friends for making them go?
  • Would they ever try it again?
  • And, what about that strange tingling feeling suggesting that the ride might have been worth it after all?

The wild rides in our lives

I then shared about my wild ride (and that of our family) in caring for and then losing our parents, and dealing with the aftermath of grief. While much of what I held most dear was lost along the way, a new life opened up as well–a life of adventure.

from blogs.nd.edu
from blogs.nd.edu

Come on the journey

I think of Gandalf convincing a timid and skeptical Bilbo to come along on an unexpected journey, with the result being that Bilbo would be transformed. (This wasn’t part of last Sunday’s presentation but I think Bilbo will figure in future presentations; he’s such a great example).

God extended similar invitations to me and like Bilbo I hesitated, but then accepted. Along the way I experienced love, consolation and healing. I discovering courage I didn’t think I had. In the process, my creativity, long dormant, was brought to life again.

This lead to an unexpected confidence which empowered me to take chances, step deeper into the water of my life, and go swimming. All along the way I was held, cared for, comforted and led by a God who loved me beyond reason.

Is it worth it to go swimming?

I believe so. Conditions can be turbulent at times. But in the end, we will grow and be changed.

Always there

Alan 11-01-2009 (Day 3.11) Sky Is Blue And Clear
Alan 11-01-2009 (Day 3.11) Sky Is Blue And Clear

Bilbo was not shielded from the harshness of life and there were losses along the way. It seemed at times that Gandalf abandoned him. Gandalf, however, never forgot.  When most needed, he was there for Bilbo.

We too have our Guide deep within ourselves, bidding us to follow and to be transformed.

You can hear this portion of my presentation here:

I ended my presentation by suggesting that the best way to get started on such a journey was to ask God to teach us how to accept his love. Once we learn to love and be loved, we can do anything.

We all had fun at the end singing this song together:

I enjoy giving talks. It gives me a chance to share the wonderful blessings and lessons I have received through my amazing grief journey.

That’s right, amazing.

New life can emerge even when we are flattened by tough losses and difficult times. We do have some control: we can fight it and say no, or we can say “yes” and go along for the journey. The main thing for me is that I knew I was not alone; I have a Guide who knows me better than I know myself.

So I am glad I decided to go along.

mommy walnut hill yearbookIt seems appropriate to be pondering these things as I note the fifth anniversary of my mom’s passing today (April 22nd). I know I am thankful to have had such a wonderful mother who taught me about trying new things and living life deeply, with zeal, joy and gratitude. Her life, even at the end, prepared me to dive deeper into my own life.

I love it when people say I look and sound like her. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Looking for a speaker?

If you’re looking for a lively speaker who loves to share and can lead a great sing-a-long, look me up. Write me at susanwbailey@gmail.com and let’s talk.

This is what I am like when I speak:

Join Susan Bailey’s Email List (special surprises just for you!)
to subscribe to this blog.

Follow Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Listen to Susan’s music Read Susan’s blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

Loving this world, warts and all: Reflections on the Sunday Gospel John 3:14-21 by Father Steven LaBaire

father steven labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

In preparation for mass this Sunday:

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish.” The world that God loves is not some idealized place where people try to live in justice and peace.

It is this world: with all the crime, dishonesty, wars and constant feuding that divide people. With all the greed and pettiness; this world with all its sickening teenage bullying and Ferguson Missouris: this is the world that God loves so much. This world is so loved by God that he seeks to bring healing and new life to it.

Faith or “believing,” is the “ladder” out of the chaos we humans create in this world. It is ladder freely provided by God. But it is also ladder we freely choose to climb. No one can climb it for us. We must faithfully climb it ourselves.

Lars Plougmann Upwards, Flickr Creative Commons
Lars Plougmann Upwards, Flickr Creative Commons

Faith is not just a matter of saying “Lord, Lord” or simply wearing a cross around our necks or cleverly being able to quote bible verses. To believe in Christ is to live the life he asks of us. It is to pursue good and resist evil. Believing demands a constant striving for integrity in our lives and relationships. Climbing the ladder is challenging. It requires perseverance and energy.

But this is how the world in all its craziness is transformed: person by person, relationship by relationship, family by family, community by community, each choosing to “climb the ladder” toward harmony with God ,with ourselves and with our neighbor.

We’re now halfway through Lent. Let’s pray for one another. Pray, that we’d each find and embrace our own way of transforming our little piece of this word, the world God loves so much.

Join Susan Bailey’s Email List (special surprises just for you!)
to subscribe to this blog.

Follow Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Listen to Susan’s music Read Susan’s blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

A day of many goodbyes

Today marks a day of many goodbyes.

One is a goodbye and good luck to new friends that I met just a few short weeks ago. Six furry friends who gathered around them a community of thousands, wishing them well. Cared for by a man and his son, who bring laughter, comfort and meaning to people they will never meet.

Family portrait (from The Critter Room, capture by Doreen Allerkamp)
the whole family (from The whole family (from The Critter Room, capture by Doreen Allerkamp)

This family of black, white and grey fluff, paws, tails and sweet faces leaves behind happy memories of adventures, “zoomies,” “baffing” and comforting moments at the milk bar with little paws kneading to and fro. We bid farewell to yet another successful foster family of kittens as they go to new homes.

Who can forget Mama Ripley’s intense and riveting stares? Or rambunctious tabby Parker, scaling new heights in his bids to escape and explore? Mild-mannered tabby Dallas, wishing to follow his brother’s path yet content to just chill? Teddy bear tuxedo Ash, a mass of “floof” and personality? Princess Newt, cool, aloof and beautiful? And sweet pansy-faced Bishop, also dubbed “Batgirl” who loved her tummy rubs from foster dad John?

ripley's kittens by name (from The Ripley's kittens by name from The Critter Room, assembled by Antti Kivilahti)
Ripley’s kittens by name (from The Critter Room, assembled by Antti Kivilahti)

I feel the familiar catch in the throat, and the eyes well up a little when I observe them this last day on the kitty cam, and I feel immense gratitude and inspiration that people such as John and his son Chris give so generously of their time to take care of God’s little creatures.

Godspeed to Ripley and her kittens.

Then, there is the more significant goodbye to someone I’ve known all my life. My older sister Chris, and her husband Tom, begin their new life of retirement today as they move away from snow-encased Massachusetts to the warmth of Alabama.

both houses

The family homestead has been scrubbed from basement to attic and the furniture is on its way. After some thirty years, they venture out again on a new adventure.

It reminds me of the last time, in 1976, when the then 20-something couple left Massachusetts for Arizona in a Datsun 280-Z, dragging behind a U- Haul trailer. My father captured the last moments in pictures.

the first goodbye

Tom, Chris, Tim and Jeff
Tom, Chris, Tim and Jeff

Construction work was scarce in Massachusetts so Tom and Chris hoped to take advantage of the building boom in Arizona. Several of Tom’s family members eagerly awaited their arrival. They were to stay several years in Arizona where two sons would be born, only to eventually return to Massachusetts, much to the delight of our family.

This time around, Chris and Tom will return each summer to Massachusetts, to the family-built cottage on the shores of Lake Winnekeag in Ashburnham. So it’s not forever. Communication will continue as usual by phone, text, email and Facebook.

camp combined
The family “Camp” in Asburnham, MA

But in a way, it is forever. It began with the passing our parents, first with our father in 2003, and then our mother in 2010. We became orphans at that point but we also became free.

The heart aches often for the “old days” when we all gathered around the table to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas. When we took family vacations together. When we’d pick up the phone or receive a call, nearly on a daily basis, just to shoot the breeze and talk about our lives.

Once there were three generations ... myself, my mother, my sister and my daughter
Once there were three generations … myself, my mother, my sister and my daughter

Parents die and a way a life goes with them. Sometimes it feels like the foundation has fallen away. This is the hardest goodbye of them all.

The orphans, however, must go on. They are now the first generation, the elders that the younger generations look up to. We now set the example, embracing life again, saying “yes” to adventures and opportunities, allowing ourselves to be transformed from within with those “yeses.”

So I won’t say “goodbye” but bid “farewell” to Chris and Tom and wish them well on their new adventure. I look forward to visiting their new home and catching up on all the news.

I won’t have a heavy heart today but the catch in the throat will undoubtedly creep up on me when least expected.

Click to Tweet & Share: A day of many goodbyes, to Ripley and her kittens, and my sister http://wp.me/p2D9hg-oR

Would you like to learn along with Susan how to live your life
in single flow?
Send an email to susanwbailey@gmail.com
to subscribe, and never miss a post!
Follow Susan on Facebook and Twitter
Listen to Susan’s music Read Susan’s blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion