Tag Archives: relationships

Finding Home Amid the Struggle

Seven months in DC. I have entered the new year with prayers for hope, feelings of
excitement, and a vision of possibility. I have struggled with growth, with lack of close
friends near by, and with understanding my vocation presently. God has shown through
brightly, and I have finally entered a space to allow myself to bask in that light.

In the beginning, I had the best of welcomes from my new community in DC. They emailed
me introductions, they made signs announcing my arrival, and they even made me a video! I hardly could
believe my dream of living in DC would have started like this!

Johnny and Gil at Starbucks

Johnny and Gil at Starbucks

The sheer importance and radicalness of my decision to live in DC started to sink in almost immediately. It didn’t take that long to move in my stuff. I had plenty of time to myself, and being new
somewhere meant I had lots of exploring to do. Yet, like travel, I prefer to do such an activity with others. Here I was in a community of people, but many people were either unavailable or uninterested. Suddenly, the awkwardness of being
the new one–in a group of people who were established in their relationships and routines–
started to ruff me up. I was the one that needed to invite myself into conversations, or
invite others to come and explore with me. It wasn’t that people were not being generous,
but that people were hoping I would use my time to either get to know my surrounds at my
own pace, or hoped that I would be immersed in learning about my responsibilities.

After one month in DC, I had my fill of being without friends, and started getting impatient
about how long it would take to have a close relationship. I didn’t want to wait for
friendships to happen, I wanted them to be plentiful at that very moment. This struggle
was good, since it begged me to pray for the well being of all the great friendships I had
back in Southern California. I thought about the time it took to make good friends back in
Orange County, and wasn’t surprised to realize that there was once a time I didn’t have
many relationships and was in the same mental space as I was currently in DC.

Thankfully, there is a habit of formal companionship that my community of L’Arche offers
and requires for all community members. I had plenty of opportunity to check-in with my
supervisors about how I was handling the transition. I had imagined doing big things for
L’Arche, and being a person that they could accurately say, “What a huge gift Gil is for us!” I
had created a load of expectations, and now these expectations were points of sorrow and
grief for me. I was not living up to who I thought I would be, and started harshly criticizing
my personal value.

This self-critic became drastically intense when I had made some poor decisions and lead to
my supervisors giving me constructive criticism. I immediately became angry and defensive
at the suggestions they gave me, and also started feeling a weight of pity squishing down
any hopefulness about moving to DC in the first place. One haunting mantra that kept
repeating itself: “Man, I guess I am not good at anything regardless of where I go.” My self-pity
flowed into a uneasy and hurt state of being that all my colleagues recognized. I wasn’t
enthusiastic, I was abnormally quiet, and a vibe of sadness hovered around me. Mid-October
through Mid-November was definitely the hardest month yet.

Nicholas visits me

Nicholas visits me

Then around the beginning of the start of the Thanksgiving holiday season, I was blessed with a visit from my cousin
Nicholas Wagner. It was such a break to have someone that I knew to hang out with me and be free to do anything in the city.
Suddenly, my room was a homely space where my cousin and I shared stories about family life, about our personal journey, and what our hopes were. It was very obvious we shared some of the same DNA make up as we got to know just how passionate
we can be about life in a very particular way.

During that same time, I was interested in an upcoming book discussion, so I had bought
the book called, The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen. I am very
familiar with this author because he had been in a L’Arche
community before he died, and all his works are promoted
constantly in L’Arche. I was excited to speak about this author’s
views with others. As it so happens, I never did get to the book
discussion, but I was floored at the material within the book. I
read with such intrigue and slow pace as if every word was sacred,
speaking to my heart, and shining a light through the darkness of
my negative emotions. It spoke of the need for people to create
time for solitude to befriend our shadow self. It pointed out that

Cathedral at Christmas 2014

Cathedral at Christmas 2014

people who do not have a healthy sense of self esteem tend to be
angry or greedy. People who do not know their inherit value as a
gift from God because God made them often look to other people
to tell them they are good, or work for others to make them feel
they are valuable. Anger comes into play when a word of
constructive criticism is offered, or when another person
gets recognition and a feeling of being unrecognized
pervades the mind. This awareness of my lack of self-esteem
wasn’t necessarily my first time acknowledging
such a fault existed, but it was definitely a deeper consciousness of it this time. And it
meant a world of difference.

I started spending more quiet time, time of solitude, away from computers and people, and
started to just be alone with myself. A heavy traffic of conflicting and disturbing thoughts
occupied myself most of the time, but eventually, it became quiet within me, and a very full
lightness filled my heart. I started to feel ok with not fulfilling my expectations, and felt ok
with just being present where I was. I felt free in accepting my present state appreciating
its simplicity, and excited about possibility ahead.

I entered the Season of Advent with fervent prayer for hope,
and I certainly got it. I continue the beginning of this
new year with the same level of hope and an extra sense of
delight that I am where I am supposed to be. I have more
surrendering to do, and definitely some unforeseen
challenges to grapple with. Nonetheless, God is so very
merciful, and is calling me to dive in.

I am so very grateful for my new home in DC. Thanksgiving
was a wonderful celebration of families and friends coming to
L’Arche in gratitude and hope. Christmas was just a
continuation of people caring for each other, in the spirit of
hope and love, celebrating
relationships and God. I even was blessed to have theIMG_5743
inspiration and energy to cook a Christmas Day turkey
dinner! Everyone seemed content. Much joy was shared in
the gift of being with each other.

Home is where we can welcome others and celebrate. I have
become part of this home, and I am home.
May your 2015 bring about just as much hope and
inspiration as I am blessed with.

©Brian A Taylor

Ontario House, L’Arche GWDC 2014

Arrived and Adjusting

They blew me away with their welcome. It wasn’t just awesome. It was CRAZY awesome.

It started with a thorough welcome letter about the household I would live in, and a few things to expect about the style of the work place: casual, occasional co-worker outings, and plenty of fun activities to participate in.

Then as my arrival date was just around the corner, they made a video about welcoming me, introducing me to each person as well as showing me around the home. It was a video just for me. Now, ask your self, when was the last time strangers made a video for you? Never? Because that was my case. I was floored! Wow!

Then, when I arrived, I was embraced and welcomed tremendously from every single person. I was again awestruck, and so very excited to be with everyone! They left me information on places to visit locally for banks, ice cream, bars, and falafel. I felt I was home.

Unfortunately, the next few days were somewhat of another story. I found people to be short in their answers to my personal questions about their lives. I noticed people were NOT incredibly thoughtful in acknowledging my presence with “good morning,” or a “good evening” phrases. More often than not, it was either not given, or it was said in passing without much emotion.

I noticed these events, and I started placing value on them. I began thinking of them as instances of proof that I was among women who were introverted and acting shy around me. In other instances, I wondered if these events were pointing to something about my own worth. “Maybe I am not what they thought I would be,” was the most frequent thought that ran through my mind, and it would run for the next five minutes to one hour depending on my mood.

I started realizing what it was like to be a stranger in a distant place. It had been so long since I did this. The last time was in college. This was completely a new city, without anyone I knew.

This past Pentecost, the homily had a word of advice for me: F.E.A.R. It’s an acronym for Face Everything And Rise. You would think the biggest thing I am facing is the change of the town, or the new job. Maybe you would guess that because my housemates are shy I am having challenges. A counselor might ask me to evaluate how much negative energy I am creating by believing the inaccurate thoughts about my self worth.

The answer is that there are many challenges. And I am asked to F.E.A.R. knowing that the Holy Spirit has never left me. That’s the trick of evil, to make any one of us believe that we have to Face Everything Alone. That is so very far from the truth! I have never been alone in that way. I may feel lonely, but I am not abandoned. I may have a heavy amount of challenges, but my faith in Christ can sustain me if I will allow Him to.

F.E.A.R. is what all Christians are called to do. To be extraordinary because we are not alone, but have the gifts of the Spirit welling up within us.

I have officially arrived in my new city. But I am thoroughly still adjusting. And I think I’ll feel better once I ask everyone I live with to give me a hug as a sign of unity, as a sign of trust, as a sign that we are F.E.A.R.ing together, with Christ. That, hopefully, will break the ice.

Interested in reading another great reflection on feeling alone but having God?

Be Reciprocal Givers and Receivers

I totally understand how easy it is to be the giver rather than the receiver.  When you are the receiver, there are questions that arise like, “What’s the intent of this gift?”  “How do I repay this gift?”  “How am I worthy of this gift?”  Those are probably only some questions that pop up.

Often, receivers are unwilling, right?  “No, don’t get me anything for my birthday, just come hang out.”  Or, “Oh, you really didn’t have to give this to me!  Please (as the receiver hands back the gift), this is too much!”  We in the United States, as far as I know, are so reluctant to be a receiver.  Most of us would rather give.

Would you ponder this with me, and admit that part of the pleasure of giving is that the giver is in control, and therefore it’s hard to surrender to become a receiver?

This aspect of generosity is something that Jean Vanier has advocated against, along with other famous people who dedicate their life to charity, such as St. Vincent de Paul, and Mother Teresa.  They advocated that the givers need to become the receivers, otherwise the givers hold a control over those whom they give to, and their Christian charity becomes tainted with a type of domination.

I notice this type of domination all the time in my field of care giving.  I am the one who has so much “control” in a situation when helping my clients with disabilities.  I am in control how food will taste if I cook it, and I am in control of how clean a place will look after I leave.  I am in control of what activities I make time for, and I am also in control of the way an activity is done.

I was working for a few days with an older couple.  Let’s call them Larry and Susan.  Larry was the main client who needed the most assistance, but since Susan also needed some assistance as well, I was expected to help both of them.  Larry and Susan had issues with balance and movement of all their joints.  They were unable to do simple things such as tie their shoes.  They were both at risk of falling down at any time, so the caregiver would have to watch their movements closely.

I was told that they needed to do a shower at least 3 times a week.  Larry was much more accepting of assistance than Susan was.  When it came time for showers, Larry was ok to be the first one, and would obey my simple commands like, “Ok, let’s stand on the count of 3.”  Susan, on the other hand, was not so keen on the shower.  I let her postpone the shower day, but when it came to the time itself, she was still not happy about the thought.  I paused, and I waited for her to explain why she wasn’t interested in the shower.  “I just don’t know what I’m doing.”

And there it was.  Fear showed its ugly face.  She was as unfamiliar with the shower routine as I was since I just began working in her home a day before this situation.  Susan didn’t want to be a receiver of my offer for a warm and relaxing shower.  She’d rather skip it and stay away from risk.  She was not being a giver: I needed her trust, and it was not being given to me.

After some gentle persuasion, and upbeat promises like, “I promise it will be warm, and it will be quick,” she began to walk over to the shower.  But even when she got into the bathroom, she started whimpering, like a scared child; the shower was no longer a comforting activity for her in her old age.  “I’m going to fall!”  She made more distressed noises, and I respected her with silence.  I moved slowly and I talked to her with an upbeat and reassuring voice in hopes of being able to complete the shower routine.

holdinghands elder youngerSusan ultimately gave me her trust.  She was the giver as much as I was.  Susan allowed herself to be vulnerable and surrender one of her most precious gifts: her trust.

I let that situation stay with me as a powerful lesson of surrender.  There’s too many times I have not wanted to surrender: listening to positive critique, giving trust to a stranger asking for money, forgiving a driver who doesn’t let me switch lanes.  I, like so many people, want to demand justice and be in total control of the situation, or at least fight for control.  Here on the opposite end was Susan, giving up control and security to a stranger who promised to honor her gift of trust.  It seemed that the best way to accept the gift was to not think little of it, but instead receive it with astonishment and gentleness.  As much as I was going to give her the best quality of care, I also had to become a mindful receiver of this woman’s vulnerability.

If I can find those times of silence and reflection, I can unpack these delicate and fleeting moments that I encounter with people that I care for.  This Lenten season, let’s practice reciprocal giving, and reciprocal surrender.

George, my friend, Rest in Peace

easter Here’s the Eulogy I did for my friend.  I was blessed to serve him and learn from him.

George was born on June 12, 1922, and was the 10th child of eleven kids.  He was 91 when he died.  He leaves 12 direct nephews and nieces, and 66 second nephews and nieces.  He and Bernice were married 47 years.  This is no surprise because, after all, it was love at first sight for both of them.  She was a nurse when he met her, and he decided to kiss her after only chatting with her for a couple of hours.  Two months later he married her.

He was born in California, and it sounds like many of the nieces and nephews have fond memories of visiting George at his place in Malibu.  Everyone knew George as someone who loved making and giving away trinkets.  He never did stop doing this, since so many children who attend St. Norbert’s school were blessed to get 2 trinkets or 20 of them throughout the year.bday4

George was definitely famous in his own right.  Bernice told me he appeared frequently on PBS with the Boy Scouts, showcasing interesting craft projects.  George taught a few classes at Orange Coast Community College.  He and Bernice were even a part of the founding board of directors for Cal State LA.

It was commonly thought that George was going to become a priest.  He was always very religious and was known to many as our “local John the Baptist.”  He used to go to Mass every day, and there was one time recently when he walked to church from his home only using his walker.  He had his first scooter stolen, but this did not deter him from accomplishing what he set out to do.

George never wanted to shy away from conversations that dealt with politics or religion.  He always promoted Christian Unity, and encouraged people to go to other Christian churches not for the sake of converting others to be Catholic, but to show others that we support them and love them.   In fact, he claims to have helped put up the Missionary Cross in this church, which is found opposite side of the altar, over the baptismal font.  He reminded priests and parishoners alike that it was at the moment of our baptism that we were also being called to be Missionaries for Christ.  George was also inter-religious and I finally went to visit and pray at a local mosque during Ramadan with him.  He never wanted to stop hosting these “missionary events,” and I thank St. Norbert’s bulletin editor Jo-an as well as Fr. Pat for allowing George to keep placing announcements in the bulletin, regardless if any one showed up.georgescooter2

George was always very generous.  He and Bernice actually gave away an RV to a homeless family one time, and had let some people live with them whether it was a single mother and her children, or a homeless man who needed some shelter during the winter.

Bernice always said, “well, if you ever need a place to stay, we have a spare room, and I think George could use some male companionship.”  Bernice mentioned this almost every time I visited, and I silently pondered the thought.  Little did I know that  five years later, I would actually live with George.

I only lived with him for a short time, from February until the end of June of this year.  Within that time I learned so much more about caring for another person.

I learned that it was more important to have George live as long as he could in his own home, and stick to his old ways, than to place him elsewhere or be upset at him for his bad habits.  I learned that George required me to love him in that unconditional, inconvenient way.  It was inconvenient to take George to Mass because I had to give extra time, or show up late to Mass.  It was inconvenient to do shopping with George.  I couldn’t just go and grab the items he need.  Quite often he wanted to do it.  And also grab a couple of other items not on the shopping list.

I started to realize that real love is often inconvenient.  Accepting the inconvenience helped me die to my Self.  Will I have enough patience?  Will I give him my attention or time only when I feel like it?  In the end, to be someone’s companion meant that I needed to be there as much as I could, until I reached a point of some uncomfortability.  Then I was loving George.

Thanks, George, for all the things you’ve done for us.  Thank you for being a missionary for the rest of us.  Pray for us that we will take your place and seek to be better Christians, thoughtful of children, and determined to make a better society, even if it’s inconvenient.donuts

This Anniversary Marks Growth, Not Pain

L'Arche Foundation Logo
Forgiveness

To look forward, to want life, means we have to be willing to look backwards and become more conscious of all those who have hurt us, all that is broken in us and that has brought us inner deaths, hurts that we may have hidden and stifled. It means that we acknowledge the story of our origins, of our own lives, see and accept our brokenness and the times we also have hurt others. When we have accepted who we are and what we need in order to grow in compassion and peacemaking, we can move forward to give life. To forgive is a gift of God that permits us to let go of our past hurts.

Jean Vanier, Finding Peace, page 47-48
To subscribe to daily thoughts by this wonderful man, click here.

About two years ago, I broke up with my fiancée.  It took a day of arguing, crying, yelling, loneliness, and confusion to really make the breakup final.  One day she was in my life as no one else was or had been; the next day she was out.  I was sad we couldn’t work things out, but relieved at my decision, and felt strong about sticking to the course.  Our relationship was toxic and I had to let myself go from her.

Today I am more mature and definitely happy.  But that quote I have added as a beginning to this reflection really dives into a point I don’t hear of often.  To get real results with forgiveness is not necessarily to go looking for a scenario where a person can obtain closure.  In fact, that’s downright selfish.  My idea of closure may be drastically different from my ex-fiancée’s idea of closure.

Instead of seeking closure from her, I sought answers within my own actions.  I sought to lay out all the wrongs I did against her both out of anger and naiveté.  Afterall, relationships are not one-way occurrences. If it was toxic, I had some part of making it toxic.  I sought counseling.  I read and reflected.  I prayed for myself.  I allowed myself to fall in love again, and get hurt; to start over again, and to be vulnerable again.

I prayed for her almost every day, and then every other day, and then after four or five months, I prayed for her on occasion.  I recognized that I was not helping the healing process for myself if I frequently reviewed my past with her.  I had to trust that she was being taken care of and being prayed for by others.

Remember Jean Vanier said to acknowledge our stories?  I’m acknowledging that even after a harsh break-up, and going to counseling, I still messed up with other brand new relationships. Yet, I have not quit believing that I can do better in my relationships, and especially in dating.  I have gotten back up, and take all events as learning experiences.

Forgiveness is coming to an acceptance of what is broken and letting go of regret or resentment.  Moving on does not meaning the brokenness is gone.  It means acknowledging our scars and walking forward with them, not shying away from our needs.  One of my major needs has been to be consistent in my prayer life, and attend prayer with a community, regardless if I feel I “get something out of it.”  The gift has been in the stability rather than in small moments of joy or peace, which do occur, but definitely not every time.

It really did take double the amount of time I was dating my ex-fiancée to move into a healthy mindset about my relationship with her.  I have not spoken to her for a very long time, nor do I intend do.  But if I did run into her, I pray that I would be nothing less than sincerely courteous to her and able to wish her well, without sounding condescending.

My prayer for you, the reader, is that you too will find quiet time to look into your past hurts and scars, and then with much hopeful resolve, ask God to open your heart to that gift of forgiveness so that you can be a light and companion to others as they wrestle with their own brokenness.

 

Relationships: Direct & Honest

There is a huge difference between what the ideal is if you are to practice spirituality in your relationships, and what the reality is how people act and react in their relationships, regardless if they are spiritual or not.

holdhandsThe Ideal is healthy communication that is direct and honest.  Overrated?  Not really.  It’s the issue that keeps coming up in much of the literature I read on dating and relationships.  I believe it’s the hardest part in a relationship because we bring in our own “baggage” about communication.

Some of us assume actions and words.  Some of us are implicit in our actions towards others.  Some of us are passionate in our words, but not so much in our actions.  Et cetera, et cetera.

hugAnd it’s all learned and hard to change, unless we work on becoming aware of the negative aspects of our style of communicating, and start revamping them with clear and honest methods.

Notice that I placed 2 types of pics as part of this post.  One shows a clear sign of a married couple holding hands.  The other pic is 2 women hugging.  These pics are there for your reminder that “relationships” is a broad term.  It encompasses the types that are sexually intimate and the types that are friendship and familial based.

It would do us very well to ask, “What does the spirituality that I practice ask me to do about communication in my relationships?”  Most likely, it will be a challenging response.  But the fact is it’s better to be healthy in our communication; basically, it’s healthy to be direct and honest.  This liberates communication to a grand scale!  There is no need to “read between the lines,” or to presume, assume, and hope for some action or word that may or may not come.

One failure of healthy communication was when I had invited my friend to go out to lunch with me with plenty of advance notice.  We agreed on a time, and we did meet.  But I purposely withheld the fact I wasn’t going to eat because I was fasting as a spiritual practice for nine days.  I purposely withheld this fact from my friend in hopes that my decision to fast would just be brushed off.  I assumed it would be brushed off.  Well, it wasn’t and it became a hurtful decision of mine.  My communication was not direct, and not completely “open” which was a type of dishonesty.

In another event, I asked a woman to come out with me to grab coffee and chat.  I never used the word “date.”  In fact, I wasn’t sure I wanted to use that word.  I wanted to just enjoy her company.  Later on, the woman reference the event as a date, and said she was confused about how I acted very nonchalant and yet still bought her coffee and food.  I presumed she was not going to view the event as a date, and yet she did want it to be, so naturally felt disappointed in the outcome.  Unfortunately, I could have just stated from the start that our get together was just as friends.

I offer two articles that speak about communication.  One is from a dating perspective, BUT ask yourself: can any of this information be applied to my communication with my friends?  I bet you’ll find yourself seeing that the rules for communication in dating actually apply just as well to your friendships.  The other article gives a great introduction to the reasons for nonviolent communication.  You will do well to look into that communication training in the near future.

A healthy spiritual person will do well to reach for the ideal of being direct and honest in all relationships.