Her Name Was Carole

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caroleandkarenThe first time I saw Carole, she was sitting relaxed on a lobby sofa, looking slightly hippy-ish in a blonde kind of way. She reminded me of our country’s hippy years when women had long straight hair, sometimes ironed on an ironing board. They wore all things denim and loose floral skirts. Pierced earrings dangled from their ear lobes. The earrings are immensely popular still, but women today flatten their long hair with an electric straightener, getting rid of every glorious curl and natural wave, taking on a different persona. This heated, too straight trendy hair doesn’t look great on every woman, but we girls do like to try a new fashion. Carole was a natural beauty in every way. Simple. Classic. Hippy was far from the gracious woman I was about to cherish.

I picked her name from a list a friend had written for me. There wasn’t a name I recognized, but I had to make a selection so I chose the first one. I was starting a three-year training at a nearby Franciscan Center that required every student to meet monthly with a spiritual director. We understood that the first appointment was for seeing if we and the spiritual director were well-matched for this new journey. Some met as many as three times before making that decision.

My first meeting with Carole was in her church lobby. She was recovering from breast cancer. I was unsure of what I had said “yes” to. I certainly wasn’t expecting that eleven years later I would be celebrating her life at a memorial gathering this week. Carole had such a profound impact on my life. In only a hundred or so hours, she enriched my life perspective and validated my faith so greatly that I entered a somewhat contemplative faith. Contentment was an unexpected result, an added blessing.

There are many explanations for what spiritual direction is about. Class text books told me that. If you search online you could read about it for hours. For now, I’ll simply say spiritual direction is a sacred relationship with someone who prayerfully listens to your life to help you discover how God is moving, even when God seems absent. It’s a reflective process, whether you’re falling apart or feeling whole, whether life is in mundane or spectacular mode. Deepening one’s relationship with God through prayer is one of its goals. It’s quite different from counseling and therapy in that one’s life story is listened to with a discerning ear for movement of the Holy in the everydayness of life. The relationship is not the same for everyone, but it does follow a church tradition that began centuries ago.

Carole and I met nearly every month for an hour, switching eventually to meeting in her beautiful, peaceful home. Left of her double front door is an immense monastery bell that indicates a personal choice she made on her spiritual journey. The house doorbell itself is the kind of chime that tells you a warm and welcoming person is about to open the door with a smile of delight that you’ve come. Her attractively decorated home revealed that she had a thriving family life. I always arrived as a client, not a family friend. In eleven years I only saw her husband twice.

I spoke about my ordinary and sometimes challenging life, my God queries and joys, the ebb and flow of my family life, responses to the training I was receiving. Carole listened attentively, as if there was nothing more important to do each time we met. Occasionally she asked evocative questions. “Can you say more about that?” “When you pray about that, what’s it like?” “What do you see on Jesus’ face?” “Can you sit with that for a while and listen for what God wants to say?” Never a solution. Sometimes a suggestion. Rarely speaking about her own journey. She offered only a sacred listening that helped me discover God’s presence and calling in and through my life. When is the last time you felt listened to that considerately?

Early in my sessions with Carole, the Holy Spirit revealed that the teacher and servant leader in me was going to be deepened and re-formed. He also invited me to surrender grave clothes I didn’t know I was wearing. Into the deep we went. Month after month. However the Spirit was leading, I was stirred every time by this profoundly spiritual woman’s invitation to be an imitator of Christ, to watch how He loved and to do likewise. She taught me to observe biblical scenes from a contemplative perspective and take my direction from how Christ responded in each setting. She was the first person to bring the scriptures alive for me in a way that said, “Enter in. Listen to what you see.”

Audire (Latin for “to listen”) is the name of the program I was in for training in spiritual direction, the program where Carole received her training. While I was learning to listen, I heard God call me to be a spiritual midwife and say that my living room would be the birthing room. Women still come frequently for bible study or to be mentored there. Carole was a compassionate companion in this genuinely intimate journey. She helped me welcome the Spirit’s calling and came alongside to sing a midwife’s song. Whenever I needed a midwife to take me through a life experience, she graciously accepted that role. It was her joy to enter God’s birthing process. And it delighted her greatly when she came to my 70th birthday party (above) to meet 39 amazing women who I had the pleasure of pouring into from the cup we shared every time we met.

Trust continued to grow through the years. God had provided me with a spiritual companionship like no other. In every successive year’s meeting with Carole after my graduation from Audire, I was affirmed in God’s preparation for me to be a spiritual director, to weave it into ministry I was already committed to. Though I’m flawed, though I am far from finished, He unfolded the way one revelation at a time, often through Carole’s gifting.

In the last few years especially, while I’ve been in chemo mode, Carole received my brokenness with the tenderest love, with grace flowing abundantly. My eyes were opened to see the love of Christ being poured into my pain, to say “yes” to Him wanting to work through my entire life’s content. Whether I arrived with an experience to explore or came with nothing at all to talk about, we waited together for the Holy Spirit to guide the hour we shared. I always felt refreshed, hopeful, even expectant, when I headed home. Where do you find the fountain of refreshing?

There is nothing God doesn’t want to be part of, to talk about, to listen to, to bless, to be seen. Even in our cancer journey. I’m in my sixth year now, battling a third diagnosis. Carole was a cancer survivor for years, and was eating more healthy than ever when a new cancer showed up and took her life this month. Now her heart is in fullest delight! She is with the Lord. It’s all she wanted. To be with Jesus. She loved Him with every part of her being. Her faith was strong, her joy infectious. Life was always brought to its simplest truths with Carole. And every truth found its source in Jesus Christ.

Our sharing days are over now, but all that I learned in our sacred time together will continue to help me discover where God is at work in my life, extending invitation after invitation to welcome the mystery of His presence. I’m not done listening. Carole has much more to tell me. There is much to cherish from the eleven years we shared. Until we meet again, I am greatly encouraged by this truth: The Holy Spirit is my true midwife.

 

Your Turn

Caucasian mother holding baby

She had me at, “God hears your whispers….” Her morning Facebook post got to me immediately. So much so that I didn’t read the rest of her post for a while. This was a declaration I needed to hear today. Although I know her statement to be true, occasionally I’m not completely sure. Typically, when I talk to God in whispers I’m laying down on my side with a soft squeezable pillow held close to my chest. I’m weary, or don’t know what to say. Maybe you have those moments, too.

The first time I heard God whisper was at a Christmas pageant in a long ago November. I was a youngish mother of three at the time. Not yet a woman of faith. My littlest son Matthew was acting on stage, perfectly cast for his role. One of his aunts had telephoned to ask if her church could borrow him. Though there were thousands in attendance there, not one boy baby had been born among them that autumn. His aunt was asking permission for her nephew to be infant Jesus in her church’s Christmas pageant.

The church was about an hour away and was (still is) what we call today a non-denominational megachurch. My husband hesitated because of the distance and use of gasoline for the trip (even in 1972). Eventually we agreed to let his sister borrow our three-month-old son. I can’t tell you what Matthew wore, but I can tell you he didn’t cry. He was perfectly content the whole time he was in the manger. (We could unpack that for a while, you and me. Are we content in the place where God has called us to be?) As it turned out, that’s who Matthew became as he grew. Smiling. Cheery. Content. Even when he was sick. And it’s who he is today as a husband, father, Christ-follower, and soldier.

I recall that my husband’s family came to the pageant as well as one of my sisters. Up to this time I was only acquainted with Catholicism and attending Mass, though I did attend protestant youth group with my husband when we were dating. If my priest mentioned anything about God whispering, I don’t remember. Nor was there any mention at home in my growing up years about what faith in God meant in one’s everyday life. I did wrong things along the way, but was mostly dutiful about church. It’s what I knew.

After the pageant, the much-loved pastor spoke to the congregation. Somewhere during his talk, it happened. A total surprise. Suddenly and unexpectedly, I heard God’s voice. By my right ear.

“It’s your turn.”

That’s all He said.

What do you do with that? What would you have done? I didn’t know what was happening. And I was essentially unchurched in hearing God speak.

When congregants walked to the front of the church as the minister was concluding his talk, I sensed a nudge to join them for prayer there. It was my first time to walk up a church aisle for prayer. When I returned to my seat, three things were new: I was happy, I wanted a bible, and I knew to throw away the zodiac ashtrays and calendar someone gave us as a gift. God’s calling on my life was already in motion. Two months later we were living in Germany. My military husband had received orders to serve there. It wasn’t until we settled into life on a foreign airbase that God began to unfold the meaning of His three word invitation in earnest. I didn’t realize at first that I had given my life to Jesus Christ that pageant night.

My spiritual journey isn’t about a traditional way one comes to faith in Jesus Christ, but it’s the one God wrote on my heart. His pen was but a whisper, but it changed the direction of my life like a mighty rudder. Only God knew where I was heading in those days. He came to my rescue in a way that becomes more and more meaningful as I serve Him and continue to discover how He speaks. When I hear His whisper now, it’s still short. A mere few words. Without explanation. But I have learned to step into them and follow His lead, as I did the night my infant third-born filled in for baby Jesus. Do you know the meaning of the name Matthew? Gift of God. A God-sent gift. With the purpose of drawing me to Him. God has a purpose for every child He creates.

Are you curious about the rest of the post from this morning? Here it is:

“There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.” Luke 12:2-3

While Jesus’ words here are cautionary to His disciples about the Pharisees, I received them as a strong reminder that God hears my every whisper (thank you, Yvette!). Whether it’s an aside to someone or whether it’s a confident or unsure prayer in His direction. Is there anything more “inner room” than where we sleep? When it’s your turn for pillow prayer and you can only muster a feathery petition or a timid pouring out of your heart, know that God hears and interprets every word your lips form. Your every whisper matters. Even the slightest murmur is known to Him. Are you listening for His voice? This I know: He is fluent in whisper. It’s how He got my attention.

 

Color Changes

Do you have a favorite day of the week for your morning paper to arrive? Maybe it’s the Sunday paper so you can spread the funnies on your living room carpet and get lost in their colorful comedy with your children. (If the comics are all about the child in you, your secret is safe with me.) Perhaps you hunger for the sports pages or the cooking section later in the week for its BOGO news or exotic recipes. My favorite is our local Saturday morning paper because I enjoy reading syndicated columnist Marni Jameson. She has a cheery way of writing about home design and decorating, but it’s her way with words that captures my attention.

During the last few years, Marni wrote frequently about the dilemmas of moving her aging mother across the country to be nearby. After decades of raising her family and living a long life, she had accumulated more than enough treasures and not-so-treasured possessions. Marni had lots of advice about what to give away, what to toss and how to value what really matters. (I’m constantly battling the “too much stuff” syndrome. You, too?) When she married recently, she wrote with wisdom and humor about combining two households and blending families. I was stirred by how my heart responded to her September 3rd column about the design world’s highly anticipated event, “And the Color of the Year Is….”

Marni was awaiting a message from one of the color consultants, paint companies and style experts she frequently consults. News of the soon-to-be hottest color for waking up our tired walls and what nots was about to be revealed. That’s a helpful thing to know if every time you come in the front door your eyes fall on what frequently seems old and miserably faded or in need of a fresh coat of paint. To a homeless person, what seems raggedy and blah to us is bliss in comparison to their customary environment. A color of the year announcement isn’t a meaningful event when you’re worried about where your next meal is coming from, but I realize that it’s everything to those in the industry.

Every time my husband and I moved our military family and set up new quarters again, we had to decide how to make our furniture fit its new habitat and mix it with the plain old pieces base supply issued us. We often leaned our framed pictures against the plain walls until they told us where they’d fit best. (Marni would approve this method, I’m sure.) We emptied an increasing number of moving boxes, sometimes questioning whether we still needed the contents. It took months to bring order to our lives. And it rarely mattered what the newest trends were. Base housing came in only one color. Unless we attended church on the base, we also had to search our surroundings for a new church and develop new friendships. That meant telling life stories all over again. During our most recent family move it took two years for a circle of friends to develop. How long does it take you to connect in a trusting way with totally new friends? I’m thinking Marni’s mother is still developing those relationships.

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We’re twenty-one years in Florida now. Our house has a homey look that fits our cold weather belongings, though I initially wrestled with, “Do we have to change all our household belongings to fit in here? What colors do people decorate with here?” I wasn’t looking forward to replacing our New England eclectic look and travel keepsakes with Florida flamingos and all things pink and aqua.

Thankfully, we stayed who we are and let our household unfold itself, no matter what trends and colors came and went. Although, we could have used some help from Marni. Hunter green hasn’t been the latest hot color for quite a while and it’s hard to find, but she surely knows where it’s hiding.

What holds me together and inspires me as fads and colors come and go is the peace my spirit has when I’m just me, the way God created me to be. He didn’t give me a passion (or budget!) for redecorating every time something new is in the stores. Though He did give me enough creativity and friends to learn from. The more I read about His character traits in His Word, the more content I am with what I have, and the more inclined I am toward giving away and tossing what’s not-so-treasured. (I remain a work in progress.)

In case you’re wondering, the 2017 Color of the Year is Poised Taupe. Sherwin Williams has declared it so. Just as there’s a story behind every choice for the design world’s annual Color of the Year, there’s a story behind every change God makes in my life. What I truly value is that He is the One in charge of those changes, whatever they look like. He is continually working on transforming my inner house. And He’s partial to jewel tones.

God is a Master Designer who always has time for everyone who looks in His direction. He’s also quite an Author. His words capture my full attention. The Word tells me He is the same in every setting and situation. He never changes. I can depend on Him. Hebrews 13:8 declares that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. Knowing this gives me a sense of being content. I trust Him. And I never have to wait long for what He wants to say.

 

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Breathe In. Hold Your Breath.

We often need a boost of inspiration before we head out for a medical appointment. Too frequently, our head takes on a limp look, unsure of what awaits. A rested, peaceful spirit can make all the difference in how we approach that unknown. I felt that way last week when I was headed for a second MRI appointment.

At the first one, I was told the machine kept registering “E”. No MRI for me that day. As an apology for inconveniencing me that morning, the tech gave me a $10 gasoline gift card. Who does that? Ryan definitely won my award for best customer service that day. Kudos to Florida Hospital’s FRI team. The following morning, I stopped for a few minutes of prayer before leaving for round two. I sensed the Holy Spirit leading me to Psalm 3. He caught my attention here with a whisper:

“Thou, O Lord, art a shield about me. You’re my glory and the lifter of my head.” Psalm 3:3

A familiar verse on the pages of my life. A sweet smile captured my face when I remembered learning to sing this scripture long ago on a retreat weekend, at Vermont’s Lyndonville State College. Treasured memories of beautiful worship, anointed teaching, healing prayer, and much love stirred in my soul. How easy it was to resurrect that melody, to sing it continuously as I drove to my MRI appointment, putting my trust in God on the way.

How different could an MRI machine be from the PET and CT scans I’ve had on my cancer journey? Scary-looking huge contraption different! Until I noticed it was painted Florida style with a soothing beach scene, complete with the requisite beach oats, sand mounds, and fluffy white clouds. Though I didn’t see it, a seagull had to be there, wouldn’t you think? A restful sight. Well done, GE. You still bring good things to life.

It wasn’t until I was (too) snug inside that I realized this hunk of mechanical metal and plastic was surrounding me completely, with all its harnessed power and danger. No lifting my head in there. My lips mouthed the comforting scripture: “Thou, O Lord, art a shield about me….” He was indeed all around me. I was safe in His protective care, complete with a warmed blanket. He was as close as my next breath. Especially after I was instructed repeatedly to, “Breathe in. Hold your breath.” Embracing this magnetic imaging space was increasingly easier every time I acknowledged God’s presence with me. Psalm 3’s shield had brought me peace.

If you’ve never had an MRI, you’d be surprised that I wasn’t the only vocalist in the exam room. The massive magnetic invention had a rhythmic tune of its own. Much like repeating door buzzers in a city apartment building. Toggle-sounding, like factory machines. Disruptive components, yet purposeful. With an odd beat. Not at all like the melody I brought with me. I fell back on how I learned to breathe deeply during spiritual direction training. Letting go of stress, embracing the peace of the Lord. When I was finally brought out of the MRI machine and able to lift my head, Ryan the tech complemented me, saying I’d done really well with breathing. “Better than most.” I asked if that meant a star for my forehead. He smiled. But I knew Who really deserved that star.

About Me

A New Englander at heart, I kept waiting for hot chocolate season to arrive when I moved to Central Florida long ago. It was a lengthy wait. Winter. Redefined. I’m the mother of four, a grandmother to nine, and a wife to my high school sweetheart for fifty-two years. My faith in Jesus Christ defines my life. I’m all about spiritual growth. And hugs. Truth be told, I can’t be alone with a pan of fresh brownies. Warm chocolate with coffee is the perfect accompaniment when I’m curled up with a new book or listening to a friend’s life story. Oh, the places attentive listening can go.

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Gift of Words

Camelia

Welcome!

What a gift that you would take time out of your busy life to come visit here. I’m a tad nervous creating a blog, but I know you’ll be kind in the learning process, so I’m going to dive in. So often I’m asked if I’ve written a book, or told how inspiring my writing is. Though I’d love to answer, “Yes,” to having a book, life took an unexpected turn and I put that goal aside. Sharing my cancer journey and my faith on Facebook has become a ministry. Longtime family and friends, and people who were once strangers and now are friends, post their encouraging words about what God writes on my heart. It seems only natural to take a leap of faith into blogging. I trust God will be my inspiration here, that His Whispers will continue in the ordinary moments of daily life, aka Whatabouts, and that I will listen when He speaks.

Like many of you, I’m a wife, mother and grandmother. My four adult children Karl, Maura, Matthew and Mark are all in their 40’s now and they’ve blessed me and my husband with nine beautiful, gifted grandchildren: Rebecca, Kirsten, Sebastian, Erik, Jacob, Celia, Brady, Isabella and Christian. We love discovering who they are, though it’s a challenge when they live so many states away. Not being involved in the daily-ness of their lives is an ache in our hearts. It’s only comforted when travel takes us into one another’s loving arms, or we heat up the phone wires talking about what’s happening in school or their sport teams. New Englanders are we, but my husband and I currently live in Florida. Our first date was in high school. I believe it’s correct that it was I who initiated that one. We’ve been married fifty-two years. Nearly half of those were spent as a military family. My husband is fond of saying military life was hard on the family and the furniture. It’s true.

Cancer has taken up a lot of space on my calendar for the last six years. It’s been a demanding and trying challenge. Thankfully, the long list of amazing family and friends who have been walking alongside is more numerous than all the dates for check-ups, chemo infusions, labs, and doctors taking care of my side effects. They pray with more energy than I can muster sometimes. To date, three diagnoses have been rooted in my abdomen. My form of cancer is low grade and recurring. (I’m not too fond of that “r” word.) From the beginning, God has faithfully whispered reminders of His presence and perspective. It’s rather like being fitted with a new pair of glasses that find their vision in the heart.

My faith is deeply rooted in Jesus Christ. He transforms my life with every turn in His direction. I am fully persuaded regarding biblical scripture, with a preference for the Amplified version. More than forty years of leadership in women’s ministries and teaching women’s bible studies has been a source of great strength. If you’d like to talk about that, you’re in the right blog. Spiritual growth is the conversation I’d stay up all night for. When the Holy Spirit began drawing me toward a life-changing contemplative faith, I learned to appreciate holy silence and listening. Today I’m a mentor and a trained spiritual director, a listening-centered ministry, and my favorite journey talks are of the one-on-one variety.

Well, I’ve been talkative, haven’t I. Now you know a little about me. I’m so often verklempt (done in) when God Whispers a phrase or a word and it takes on symbolic application for the Whatabouts I’m engrossed in at the time. I love to share those insights and wondrous moments. Many find them inspiring. Hopefully, you’ll feel the same here while we join hearts in a shared awareness of what God is speaking, and our lives will become richer as we open His gift of words.

Looking forward to seeing you here each week!

Karen Hanson