Tag Archives: surrender

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

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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.

Our Journey Will Have Death and Resurrection

I got the call on an early Monday morning.  “Hi, Gilbert, it’s Bob from L’Arche DC.”  My heart pumped rapidly, and I started getting shaky with my phone as if I was going to hear something tragic…or something exciting.

“We are welcoming you to come join us, but with one huge stipulation.  You see, we tried having you come as soon as you can, but we just don’t have any more rooms for anyone else right now.  So, if you do join us, it’s going to have to be in May.”

I felt relief.  It was over.  My wandering had reached a point of clarity.  I now had a date to start my new adventure with a fantastic organization and incredible people.  I sighed ever so deeply.

“I am happy to hear about this opportunity and I assure you, I have no problem with the date.”  And I replied with a huge grin on my face.

I’m sure they were hesitant about whether I would be accepting their offer.  Afterall, I had expressed my eagerness to join them as soon as possible, and that I was even laid off from my current ministry sooner than I thought.  I was definitely welcome to the idea of moving to the East Coast in the dead of winter if it meant having a stable income AND health insurance.

Yet, despite my pronounced eagerness, I had pondered over an important detail that kept my eagerness in check.  In fact, there was hardly any talk about it– it was a detail only mentioned once. They did not know that I had prepared myself on the spiritual, emotional, and mental level to accept the possibility of a late starting date rather than an immediate one.  They had mentioned that I may not be able to move in as soon as the summer of 2014.  Nonetheless, they only needed to mention that possibility once in order for me to consider it.

I had to do some inner work even prior to being prepared to accepting a later start date.  I had shared with you all that I was frustrated wandering, and that I was so very ready to do something that would lead to a more settled life.  (Read my blog post on “Wandering”.)  I had to allow myself to be very upset at God, to be very upset at myself for not fulfilling my own expectations, and to just sorrow over all of it.

But as much as I kept posing the question to God, “What do you specifically want me to do,” I also tried to be positive about my situation by counting all the blessings I did have: awesome friends, an amazing family, living in one of most beautiful parts of the world, and having enough money to not ever worry about my basic necessities.  I let myself sorrow, but only during prayer times.  It was a psychological method I had randomly read about, that healthy people will allow themselves to feel their depth of grief, loss, frustration, anger, and any other negative emotions, and then they will commit to feeling content and resolute in their purpose of being the rest of the day.  If anyone would be willing to listen to me complain and rant, it would be God.  God could handle anything, and so I decided to let God have it: my tears, my shaking of my fist, my thoughts of being destructive to myself or to items that I used for worship.  Yes, I did imagine myself throwing my bible across the church, or ripping apart my rosary beads, and yelling at the top of my lungs, “Why are you forsaking me!! WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT ME TO DO!”  But all this was in my head; I never felt the need to act out such fantasies.

I remember these times also bringing a sense of enlightenment.  I remember sometimes walking away from my prayer and feeling content…a deep peace.  I never received a voice in my head; just a feeling that I was going to be ok.  Alas, I did not have my anger and frustration wiped away.  I would start feeling upset about my lack of career path, lack of choices, and feel negative about my life after a couple of days, sometimes the very next day.

Yet, I was being mystically consoled.  Meaning, I didn’t feel good about venting my frustration, but I felt ok.  I felt strength in continuing to do the only thing that was the best thing to do: place one foot in front of the other.  And to do that 100 times, 500 times, then  1,000 times until I reached my destination.  Thank you, Lao Tzu for that wise saying.

I mentioned in my blog post “Wandering” that my listlessness meant I had no clue when I was going to stop feeling nomadic about my life.  I felt solidarity with the Hebrew people who were in an exodus state for such a long time, and their story recounts all the vocalized frustrations they had with God.  I suddenly felt more pity for them than for God, because I knew how bad it meant to me to have some sort of timeline, and I could not imagine walking around for an unstated period.  I would have joined them in their complaints, and would have told Moses, “This sucks, man!  Let’s just go back to Egypt, cause at least we know how to get there and how long that would take!”

I just wanted a timeline of when my wandering would stop.  “Please, God, is that too much to ask?”  And then I got it.

As you might have guessed from reading the beginning of this post, I called an organization called L’Arche Washington DC.  I knew I would love to work for them, and in that initial conversation the recruiter mentioned a significant fact, “Yeah, we love accepting new people and I hear what you are saying and I know what you are looking for.  But I do want to mention that it’s more probable for you to find a placement with us in the summer time than finding one now in the winter time.  We do have one or two spots to fill, but I just can’t guarantee you that you would get one of them this month.”

Those may have not been exactly the recruiter’s words, but they held the utmost important fact that I needed to embrace: I may not be able to join them until summer time.  To this very day I still remember those words being spoken, and my heart had a sinking feeling.  I was tired of wandering and I wanted to do something incredibly meaningful RIGHT.  NOW.  Yet, because I had been pleading with God for awhile to give me a timeline, I felt this was a nudge in my gut that the possibility of my acceptance in the summer of 2014 wasn’t just a possibility, but an answer God gave me;  after all, it was a timeline.   Not as soon as I was hoping for, and yet, it was still sooner than 40 years.  I was being given more compassion than the Hebrews had obtained.

So when it came to hearing the first week of January that I was welcomed to begin in May,  I wasn’t disappointed.  I was relieved that I didn’t have to wait anymore.  I had a timeline to work with, and I was already hustling for jobs and making enough money to live and have some fun.  I was excited to announce to my family and friends WHEN I was destined to live somewhere new, and do what I love.

I had to die to the idea that a timeline was going to follow my ideal timeline.  I had to surrender to the God that took care of me at every moment of my life, and stop doubting that I was going to be left behind.  In my surrender, I gain so much more life.  I had stopped being angry during my prayer because I felt I did have purpose: to be the best of myself for the sake of others: to be incredibly friendly, wonderfully kind, somewhat goofy, and at all times be of a spiritual mind.

This is how God wants it: to be resolute in my faith so that I might inspire others, and to enjoy the love given to me so that I might be able to make time to love and serve others even when it’s inconvenient to do so.

We are all promised to experience death and resurrection in our journey.  But I don’t believe it has to only mean physical death, but it also includes inner death to expectations that frustrate us.  Resurrection does not have to be a promise we wait for, but in fact it’s what God wants us to live out RIGHT.  NOW.  If we’ll just trust Him.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

The second reflection on this is about what Resurrection looks like.  I will write that post 2 months, if not 7 months from now.

Wandering

Wandering.  Someone described it as the space in which you come from and where you want to go.

In life, we hardly get from point A to point B in a heartbeat.  We desire to get married, and yet we have to date a few people before we find someone to be serious with.  We desire a position that will help us be financially stable and will stimulate us, but we’ll work many smaller jobs before we land that “dream job.”

Due to the economy, current culture trends, and whatever the case may be, there are many of us who are wandering.  This was never necessarily a bad thing.

We take the situation that happened with the Israelites.  We read that they wandered for 40 years in the desert.  We read that they also continued to forget about God and all the little miracles done during the journey.  There was much complaining and moaning.  “When are we ever going to get out of this?”

Oh, how I know that feeling.  I’ve been underemployed for the last….nine years.  I definitely chose most of those years to be underemployed.  I have been involved with the non-profit world for about six years and other employment has involved work with the church, which usually doesn’t promise high earnings.

I have agreed to be an underpaid worker.  I have always desired to serve God full time and work specifically with churches and non-profits.

….I just hope that I can find some position that will help me have a family.

And so I’m wandering.desert wandering

As I reflected on all the possibilities, and what I have done so far, I do see that God has never left me.  Some set backs have occurred and maturing has developed.  Yes,  I have felt lots of impatience, and I supposed I am feeling some right now.  I want to work in a position I see fit for myself RIGHT NOW.

Why the wait, God?

A pastor by the name of Gene Appel said that Christians need to understand that the 40 years in the desert for the people of Israel was an important time.  They didn’t know when God was going to say, “You have arrived.”  In fact, biblical scholars say that the numbers in the bible tend to be more than literal, but spiritually significant.  The number 40 is a number that stands for “a very long time.”  So who could really know the exact time the Israelites were lead in the desert?

It was an important time because God was able to just be with them.  God was not making relationships with other nations, or at least that is what seemed to be happening.  The people were being given this opportunity to bond as a nation, and to bond with God.  The people were also being tested and possibly their doubts and frustrations wear only indicators that they would not be ready to move forward with God’s plan.  This does seem slightly counter-productive since the Israelites really had no idea how long the journey was going to be.  If only they understood the length of time it was going to take, would that have made them more hopeful?

Pastor Appel said, “Will you follow God even though you don’t understand and you don’t know how long?”

Some days it’s a no.  I’ll not pray as much, I’ll let myself over eat or feel depressed.  Other days, I’m positive and trusting.  I’ll do the work I need to do: search out a position, contact people, do follow ups, go on dates.  I will move forward knowing God is guiding.

I’m praying I have more positive days.  But there is that whole aspect of time wearing someone out.  It feels so long after a few years.  It feels disheartening to keep trying.

I guess at times like these we need to say out loud a frequent sentence found in the Psalms of the Old Testament:

“O Lord, make haste to help me!”

  • The Soul in Depression: A Podcast on using the Psalms as part of the healing process of depression.
  • wandering… : A simple statement from a blogger about the necessity of wandering.
  • How to Quit Wandering : A more in-depth look at the benefits of wandering.
  • The Story: Wandering: this blog is posting each chapter of THE STORY, the same book Gene Appel is using for his church, Eastside Christian Church.

The house of my sojourning.

There are some blogs that are just fun to read, and then there are blogs that are frekin so amazingly heart-felt that you can’t help but share it….and then there are blogs that you wonder whether that person is just writing about you because it’s way too alike your own thoughts, ponderings, loves, and doubts!!
This is the second time I am “reblogging” this particular Blogger named Grace. She is AMAZING because she has such a better way of describing so much of what I also have experienced. And she just turned 33. I turned 33. So, read this, and know that I am not just merely passing this along as a good read…..it’s actually so much of what I am feeling right now!! Enjoy her post, and pass it on: ….

Not a Wasted Decision

Gilbert and his Novitiate Spiritual Director, 2003

Gilbert and his Novitiate Spiritual Director, 2003

How funny things don’t always work out as you planned them to be; but there has been many gifts in all that I did not plan.

It was 10 years ago that I began my novitiate experience.  When I entered the novitiate, I thought nothing of it at first.  The novitiate is a place for a person to seriously take the next step towards becoming a “Religious,” that is someone who serves the Catholic church through a dedicated life of prayer, service, and who will live in community with other Religious.

I was told of my acceptance as a novice at a party only for Religious.  They were celebrating one of the Saints that founded their community, St. Ignatius of Loyola.  When I was told, I didn’t think I was going to be rejected, so I did lack surprise and even a little enthusiasm.  “Are you excited?” the Religious in charge of vocations asked me.  “Oh, sure!” I hastily replied, “I’m glad to start this next part of my journey.”  We looked at each other for a couple of moments, we smiled, and then parted ways.  I didn’t call anyone immediately.  Yet, I did tell people at the party, and they congratulated me.  My parents got the news when they came to pick me up.  “Wow,” and, “That’s wonderful,” were the main comments I remembered.  Everyone seemed happy, but as I said, I wasn’t overwhelmed with excitement.

I remember my enthusiasm shooting up as the week before I moved into the Novitiate began.  I had both happiness and nervousness.  I was sure I was doing the right thing for myself, renouncing any opportunity to be married in the future, but also knowing that the novitiate was still a trial time to really live out a Religious lifestyle so that in two years, I would make a proper discernment about whether to continue, or to do something other than the priesthood.

I remember also that very moment when my family and select friends said good-bye to me, and left the party that celebrated my moving-in day.  I remember watching them leave, and finally saying to myself, “Wow, this is it.”  Finally, I felt a sense of awe at the decision I had made.

It was only as I lived my first month at the novitiate that I started realizing how hard it was to live with men, be surround by men, and be constructively criticized by men.  I was well aware of the sacrifices needed to live such a lifestyle, but I didn’t know how much growth I needed in humility and courage to become a priest.

I definitely thought it was supposed to be a cakewalk if it was meant to be.

We were a group of six who entered in 2003.

We were a group of six who entered in 2003.

I wrote about all this as one of my first journal entries in a leather-bound book I finally used up.  It took 10 years to use all of it.  I had stopped journaling often since I was writing in other ways: lengthy email updates to friends and family, writing reflections about books, and even writing letters to friends I had made across the Nation.

That was August 30, 2003.  Since then, I have done many different things, and most of them not what I intended.  The biggest change in events was my departure from the novitiate after one year, and eventually joining l’Arche in a very full-fledged way.

But it has been helpful to remember my “Entrance Day.”  It reminds me of the hurt I went through most of my time at the novitiate, and how much I felt abandoned by God.  I remember the fantasies of love that started to plague me as if I was smitten with a curse.  I remember feeling lonely amid a community.

It’s after all that pain that now I see the truth.  I now understand that God never abandoned me, nor did God want me to ditch loving companionships with women.  But there is a difference between falling in love and having a respectful relationship, and objectifying love as if it was a “cure-all” to natural passions.  I was lonely because I was choosing to distance myself from others, not letting the other men help me nor allowing my experiences to help them.

I would not change the course of events of my past.  My prayer life has forever been affected with depth since my time in the novitiate.  I believe that it wasn’t so much that my idea of becoming a priest was not meant to be.  It’s more telling about the graciousness of God in allowing things to always work out for the better because I’m cared for.  Maybe I was supposed to try harder to be humble, or grow deeper in courage, yet I am now where I am because I have said yes to dancing with God.  Sometimes I wanted to lead the dance, but the best parts of the dance in my life have surely been when I decided HE could lead instead.

I don’t wait anymore.

So, I will not regularly do this. BUT this post was written with lots of heart, and was well explained. If you read it too fast, you’ll miss some VERY important points about chastity, and dedication to God. Enjoy. May it make you ponder about your own relationship with God.