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When I came home from the hospital this is what I wrote in my journal three months before I entered the hospital:
“My desire is that you be prepared for the changes that are occurring in this ministry.
To be open to the new things I am doing at Jesus House
and to let go of everything that would block the Holy Spirit
working in this ministry and in your life.
Be more at peace with everything.
Allow me to take the lead here.
Let go and let me have the reins of this work.”
Little did I know that this WOULD BE A TURNING POINT IN MY LIFE. Although everyone was concerned that I wouldn’t pull through this illness, I knew deep inside that there was more for me. Not so much to do, but to be present to in a new way.
I responded, “I’m not sure I know how to let go as I’ve been responsible for so much for so long that it’s hard to see what to do. Please teach me how to rest in you as gently take over the work through others.” On that same day, I offered the following prayer, also written in my journal: “Rain over me, Spirit of God, pour your abundance upon me, O God’s Holy Spirit of grace and Abundance, that I may be filled with God’s fullness. Help me to dream the dreams of new life and new ways with new vision for the future.”
Each night it was different reflection, and each night I experienced the presence of Christ. The sense I had was that He was coming to me as the good Shepherd. These words came to me from the Gospel of John, chapter ten, “He who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out, and they follow him because they know his voice. I am the good Shepherd. The Shepherd gives his life for his sheep. I am the good shepherd, I know my sheep and they know me.” His promise to me is that he is leading me and to pay attention to the guidance He was providing me through His words and through the circumstances of my life, as well as from the reflections on my life experiences.
During one of these late night reflections I sensed that the Lord was inviting me to write. And my response to him was, “About what?” I believe that he was encouraging me to write about the transitions in my life and the gift that was given to me at each stage of my life. Hence the title, “The Gift of the Dragonfly.”
I can recall a specific turning point in my life. About thirty-eight years ago I was floundering spiritually and emotionally. I had forgotten all that I had been taught by priests and nuns who were my teachers throughout grade school and high school. I was wrapped up in diapers, formulas, baby food and four children who came quickly into our lives with no breather in between. They were 5 years old and younger. My son was 5, my daughter, three and a half years old and twins, less than a year old. My husband traveled for his company and the feelings of loneliness would overwhelm me at times in the middle of preparing lunch or dinner with practically no adult chatter to keep me sane in the midst of the noisy household that it was getting to be.
So when a friend asked me to join a spiritual book group where babysitting was provided, I jumped at the chance. I would drop off the children across the street from her home where they were by cared for by several wonderful older women. Then I strolled across the street to my friend’s home for book group. Did I mention that I hadn’t strolled anywhere for five years? What a pleasure! A group of friendly women pretty much all about the same age who were drinking tea, eating muffins and discussing some spiritual work that we were reading together. No phone, no children interrupting conversations, just us women talking about our lives and how that related to what we were reading. It was my first awareness in years as to how far I had gotten away from practicing my faith, and, more importantly, how far I had gotten away from myself. Somehow in the midst of household chores and children’s needs, I lost myself. This fact was beginning to dawn on me as we shared our lives and our hearts with one another.
How do I find myself? How do I regroup and come to know me. What my deepest needs are, and what did I really want out of life? The nagging question in the middle of it all was, “Is this all there is to my life?”
Where is the “me” I thought I used to know somewhat and what does this person want out of life? Where do I find out the meaning of life? How do I begin to find the answers to these questions that were beginning to haunt my days and my nights? I began to share my concerns more fully with my husband and he was away and alone enough that some of what I was sharing with him began to resonate with him also.
After the book group stopped for the holidays, my friend introduced me to a monk, who appeared to be bigger that life. He had a booming voice that would range from soft to loud to emphasize a point. He was a wonderful teacher, very charismatic. He became a mentor to our group and taught us the importance of prayer, and how to pray. He taught us lectio divina. We shared the scriptures and our lives with one another. He was wonderful insightful scripture scholar who taught us how to look at our daily lives in light of the scriptures we were reading together and how to allow the scriptures to impact our daily lives. We became a community under his direction. I always recall that time fondly and see it as my spiritual formation. I began to understand the scriptures as a way to know myself and I rediscovered God in my life as a presence and a gift that I had neglected. More to come…
The idea for the title of these reflections came when I was in the hospital with a life threatening illness. My last pills were administered usually about midnight. I was asleep by then and had to be awakened. It was hard for me to go back to sleep.
During the last two weeks of my hospitalization, this midnight to two a.m. period became my time for prayer and reflection. I was connected to so many lines and machines that I couldn’t hold a book easily, so it became my undisturbed quiet time. Many thoughts and images emerged at that time. One of these was a memory of a journaling retreat I had participated in several years before. The theme was “Write to Hea.l”
I remembered one amazing experience that I had that was eye-opening. We were asked to use our non-dominant hand and draw whatever came to us. Mine was a very free flowing image using the crayons given us. After a period of time we were asked to look at what we had drawn and fill in an image that we see in it. Honestly, it looked like a spider’s web and almost impossible to distinguish an image in what looked like scribbles to me. Suddenly I “saw” what looked like a dragonfly and colored it in. It really did look like a dragonfly. One of the women sitting at the table next to me suggested I look at the cover of the journal I brought with me. Unbelievably, the cover had watercolor paintings of dragonflies and butterflies all over it. I hadn’t really noticed it before. How unobservant am I??
Then, after we shared our masterpieces with the others at the retreat, another woman seemed very excited by what I shared, and asked if we could sit together at lunch as she had something she’d like to share with me. My curiosity had me going crazy by the time we broke for lunch. When we finally got together, she told me she had been reading about American Indian Lore and the totems they created. One of the images on these totems was the dragonfly. It was a symbol of life transition. It was either a time that had just been completed, or, a transition that was just beginning, usually lasting several years in duration. And that the latter part of the dragonfly’s life span was far more beautiful and colorful than the first part.
Reflecting upon that memory led me to understand that for the last several years I was experiencing restlessness even in my prayer time. I felt that I was on the cusp of a deep turn in my spiritual life and that something new was on the horizon for me, but I didn’t know what it could be.
Another memory that came to me was of a scripture that I had been wondering about for about three months. It was the words of one of the prophets:
“Zeal for thy house consumes me.”
The sense I had at the time was that Christ was trying to tell me, “at this stage of your life, this is not a good thing.” When I got home and looked up that journal entry. It was on October 28, 2008, three months before I went into the hospital and this is what I wrote:“You are cautioning me to slow down, to be more balanced in my work. Is that what you’re really saying or am I putting words in your mouth, Jesus? Please respond.” This is what I sensed Jesus saying to me:
“My desire is that you be prepared for the changes that are occurring in this ministry. To be open to the new things I am doing at Jesus House and to let go of everything that would block the Holy Spirit working in your midst in this ministry and in your life. Be more at peace with everything. Allow me to take the lead here. Let go and let me have the reins of this work.”
Little did I know that this WOULD BE A TURNING POINT IN MY LIFE. Although everyone was concerned that I wouldn’t pull through this illness, I knew deep inside that there was more for me. Not so much to do, but to be present to in a new way. More later…
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote,
“Whether by a healthy child, a garden patch that’s shared, or a generous social action, to know even one life has breathed easier because you lived; this is to have been successful.”
This thought brought to mind a reflection from a book written by Scott Walker entitled, “The Edge of Terror.” His father was a missionary and he and the family lived on an island in the Philippines called Panay when it was invaded by the Japanese during World War II. They hid in a remote part of the mountains until the end of the war. In his book, he writes of his memories of this dangerous time.
Years later Scott received a large envelope from the island with a copy of the book and a letter. It was from the Pastor of a church on the island. He had also spent many years in hiding during the war. During that time he studied with Scott’s father and eventually became a minister. The Pastor was given the book as a gift from his daughter who was attending college in the United States. She purchased the book for her father because she remembered him talking about this period of time in his life.
After reading the book, the Pastor felt he had to write to Scott to tell him about some of the things that occurred that were not in the book. What he remembered most vividly was that Scott’s father had not only taught him academics but also ministered to him as a loving pastor and mentor.
When the Pastor’s wife became ill with Jungle Fever, Scott’s father treated her with the medicine he had which was in short supply, and she lived. Later Scott’s father also was infected with Jungle Fever and because there was no more medicine to treat him, he eventually died. He wrote to Scott that his father’s last words to him were:
“it is better to help than to take for yourself.”
The Pastor wrote that he has lived and preached this way for the last sixty-five years. Because of this, Scott realized that the loving actions we share during our lives are transformed by God into ageless good.
What a wonderful legacy Scott received from his father through a Pastor who lived thousands of miles away and yet the lesson learned was timeless and ageless.
Recently, the Gospel reading at Mass, told the story of St. Peter and the Apostles in a boat when a storm came up and became extremely dangerous. Suddenly, they saw someone walking on the water towards them. St. Peter recognizes Jesus and asks if he could come to him. Jesus’s answer was direct, “Come.” When Peter became aware of what was happening around him on the water, he began to sink. Jesus rescued him, returned him to the boat, and stilled the troubled water and the hearts of the Apostles.
It reminded me of a trip Angela and I took with the kids. We decided to visit her sister and her family in California. When my brother heard what we were planning, he suggested that we drive out in his van. He recently had it worked on and put new brakes and tires on so it was ready to go. We agreed. Then we removed the back seat and put in two single mattresses, so anyone who needed it, could sleep. We also put luggage racks on the roof so that we could have more room in the van. We decided to leave on Election Day evening after Angie finished working at the poles.
The big day finally arrived and we all were quite excited about going. I decided to take a nap that afternoon because I was going to drive through the night. Just before we were ready to leave, a lady from our prayer group showed up at the house. She was extremely excited and she told me that the Lord gave her a message while praying for me. “Don’t worry about the tires,” she said. I thanked her for her prayer, loaded up the kids, and went to pick up Angela. When I told her about the woman, I added that I wasn’t even thinking about the tires. With a beautiful smile on her face, Angie said, “Let’s just thank God that she prayed for us.”
So we began our trip. I drove through the night and at 9:30 in the morning we stopped for breakfast. Afterwards, Angela drove while I slept in the back. Around 2 in the afternoon, we stopped at a burger place and I took over the driving. We reached Wichita, Kansas and stopped at a motel that had a pool. The kids celebrated getting out of the van by jumping right in! We got a great night’s sleep (no TV).
We started early the next day around 7:30 a.m., had breakfast, and made great time because Angela had packed lunches and drinks so we didn’t have to stop for lunch. We arrived at Albuquerque, New Mexico during a great heat wave. The motel had air conditioning and TV but no pool. We were directed to a great restaurant where we had a wonderful meal together.
The next morning, the manager of the motel advised us to fill up with gas and ask about a “water bag.” The man at the station explained that while traveling through the desert in high heat, they strap a water bag in front of the radiator to stop it from overheating. We had it done.
After we finished our breakfast, we started driving through the desert. The weather report said “fair and warmer with the present temperature at 110 degrees.” We were about an hour out of Albuquerque, when I began to hear a noise in the rear of the van. I asked the kids, “What are you doing back there?” They answered that it was not them but said they had been hearing a noise for a while and now it’s getting worse! I stopped to check it out. What I found shook me up – both back tires were splitting. There was only one spare tire. What was I to do? All I could think of was hoping a State Trooper would come along so we would be able to get some help. Angela pointed to a sign ahead that said, “Truck Stop – we can fix anything.” The tires stayed together long enough for us to make it into the parking area.
I walked into the repair office and told the man what my situation was. He told me we don’t usually have anything for small trucks and vehicles but I’ll put it up on the rack and see what’s happening. It sounded like an impossible situation. About an hour later he told me the bad news. Whoever did the tires put on recaps and all four were breaking apart from the heat. Normally, I would have to send to the local dealer and try to get tires out here, but GOOD NEWS! I checked our inventory and there are four steel-belted radial tires here that were ordered and never picked up. I told him that was an answer to prayer and that the Lord had told a little lady back in Delaware that we didn’t have to worry about the tires. He got them working on the tires right away.
Two hours later, I went to the office and the owner was there with the mechanic. They told me to sit down. The cost for the labor for mounting, aligning, and balancing the tires came to $110, but because the tires were an answer to prayer, they were FREE!
Just as the Lord did with Peter in his troubled times, He was present and helped us in our time of need. However, there was one difference, He told us before we even began how he was going to minister us. THANKS BE TO GOD!
October 19, 2011
The Parish of the Resurrection was graced with Paula D’Arcy last Sunday evening, September 18, 2011. After finishing a retreat at Jesus House, she graciously hosted a witness talk at Resurrection for any and all who were interested in the diocese. To say her personal story of faith was powerful—well that is just about the understatement of the year!
At the heart of her sharing was the idea that indeed we have many plans for our lives. Some of us are even living out those plans to their fullest. But let us not be fooled, life has a plan of its own. No matter our desires, our will, our wants and needs, life has a journey unto itself. When we fight against it, we can be anxious, stalled, or even depressed. When we open ourselves to what may happen in life, contentment can be found, even real joy and peace.
In D’Arcy’s case, her plan was ripped out from under her. Her young child and husband were killed in a motor vehicle collision, in which she was spared. Her plan was immediately gone. It took years of searching, sharing, praying, and waiting for D’Arcy to see how the Holy Spirit was moving in and changing her life. She seems to now be a person who is very grateful for her life, and she has gone on to do wonderful and powerful acts of goodness in our world.
D’Arcy’s story resonated with me in many ways. I am a planner. A good one too! I have 3 calendars! Who needs 3 calendars? ME! But D’Arcy’s story also resonated with me in that she was a real person who had experienced immense grief and pain in her life, and she has come through it to tell about it. We all have pain and grief in our life. Maybe not catastrophic like D’Arcy’s, but maybe we have. We all have a story. We come together as believers often, in an effort to come through that pain. We bring that to our Eucharistic Liturgy on Sunday. Real healing, real hope is offered in dour community. D’Arcy spoke of “swinging doors” in her life as the many spiritual awakenings she has had while on her journey. Without having been opened to the working of God in her life, she would have never been able to see these moments as grace-filled. However, now through the eyes of faith, she sees different moments in her past a “swinging door”: when something happens that utterly changes your perception of yourself, the world you live in, and maybe your understanding of who God is.
Her story challenged me to look at my own life, through the eyes of faith, and to look for those “swinging door” moments. When has God intervened in my life, through other people, books I’ve read, moments I’ve shared, where I have left changed? Honestly, there have been many “swinging door” moments in my life. I’m sure there have been in yours as well. Take the time, think about it. How has God moved in your life? In this month? Week?
(Cory Zolandz is the director of Religious Education at Parish of the Resurrection in Wilmington, DE. The essay above is used here with her permission)
At Mass a few Sundays ago the readings really touched me. In the first reading Solomon is about to become king when he has an encounter with God. The Lord offers him the choice of having anything he desired.
His selection is a wonderful example for all of us. He chose wisdom that he might be better able to do God’s will for the people. Having been raised up to be king was not sufficient in Solomon’s eyes, he realized he needed continuous help from God to be able to accomplish God’s desires as king. Simply put his choice was GOD!!
In the New Testament readings Jesus speaks of the “pearl of great price” and the “treasure hidden in the field”. It is been written that the “pearl of great price” is placing a priority on having an intimate relationship with God, and the “hidden treasure” is seeking and finding that which is hidden within you that the Spirit of God wants to reveal. Jesus continues by saying that you should sell al you have to gain these prizes.
Like Soloman we too are given a choice, to put aside the things we hold as important that might separate us from God and seek after him so that we might follow his plan for us.
The Gospel of Matthew tells us that not everyone who says, Lord, Lord shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of God. As John Byers has written: “You may go to heaven without health, without riches, without learning, without friends, but never without an awareness of the Love of God for all of his creation.” What do you hold important? What are your priorities? On what do you spend the time and money that you have control of? Reflect upon that and you will come to know what is important to you? Have you chosen God as the most important treasure in your life?
Daneen “Dee” Warner, a friend and long-time supporter of Jesus House walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain this summer. The Community News did a very nice article about her trip. Coincidentally, the movie “The Way“, by Emilio Esteves, is coming out in October. “The Way” is about a father’s journey while walking the Camino de Santiago.
Warner is writing a book about her experiences on the camino, and said she would definitely take the pilgrimage again. “I have a deeper sense of everyone’s life journey,” Warner said. If you are interested in discerning a future Camino pilgrimage or local pilgrimage with Dee Warner, contact her at Jesus House at 302-995-6859.
I recently read a book entitled “Heaven is for Real” by Todd Burpo. In the story a 4 year-old boy slips from consciousness during emergency surgery.
Upon his recovery he tells his father that during the operation he had spent three minutes in heaven. The father was taken aback. He was a small-town Nebraska pastor and never believed in that kind of experience. So he decided to test the young boy by asking him to share some of what happened while he was in heaven. Everything he shared was beyond the capabilities of a 4 year-old. One story in particular was when the father asked him was “Did you get frightened when it became dark at night?” The boy looked at his father and answered “Dad, you should know that there is no darkness in heaven. ‘God is all light and Jesus is a lamp unto our feet.’” The father realized the truth and wisdom the boy shared.
This took me back to when my 4 year-old daughter woke me up at 2:10 in the morning and told me that I had to pray for John Elison. I looked at her and asked why. She told me that the blue lady told her to tell me. Then she turned and went back to bed.
By this time Angela was awake, I told her what had happened and we started to pray. By 2:15 I couldn’t stand it any longer, so I told Angela no matter what the time, I was calling John to find out how he was.
When he answered the phone, I could tell I had awakened John. He told me he was fine, but then he told me to hold on, the other phone was ringing. He came back on the line a moment later all excited and told me “It’s a miracle.” At 2:05 his son, John, Jr, who was driving home from college lost control of his car on the interstate and his car overturned, but somehow, the state trooper said he was not hurt and would be able to continue on tomorrow.
Like the father in the story, I could not understand what was happening with my young child until I realized that God used her to show His love and protection for another son, to the amazement of two other fathers.