blogpic BreastCancerQuiltI’m starting my second year of classes at Aquinas Institute of Theology for a Certificate in Spiritual Direction. During July, I had a one-week Intensive Practicum during which our class practiced Spiritual Direction with each other in threesomes: one was the Spiritual Director, one was the Directee, and one was a Compassionate Observer. We met for a ten-minute session followed by reflection and sharing.

I was in an emotionally vulnerable place that week. My husband, Dan, had left the morning of my first day of class to move to Texas for a new church job, and I needed to get the house ready sell, help our youngest get ready for college, and begin to wind down at my job for a move I had not wanted to make. I didn’t want to move when our youngest was just starting college, especially since she picked one that would be within a 5-hour drive of home; she would now be 10 hours away. Her older brother is changing colleges, majors, and his life-course, and our oldest was about to move to a new state and city to look for a new job. My children had already been through so much and I did not want to add to it by selling their home while their own lives were in transition, and they were still growing into adulthood. They had endured a mom with rigorous breast cancer treatment and chronic severe migraines, the illness and death of three beloved grandparents, the loss of their church home when it was time for Dan to resign as pastor, and other life traumas along the way. The last thing in the world I wanted to do, was to add to their losses by losing their home and having their parents move 600 miles away.

Tuesday of that week I listened to a podcast of The Moth Radio (“true stories told live”) as I got ready in the morning. One of the stories just uncorked me. Of course, I already had my makeup on, but I just bawled. I figured it was the all the loss and change going on, and that story gave me a chance to get some of it out. I went to class still sad, like my emotions were just under the surface with the flood gates ready to open at any time. This meant I did not want to be the Directee while someone else practiced being the Director! I wanted to hold it together.

I managed to avoid being the Directee the previous day, and that morning, but by the afternoon it was my turn to be the Directee and I couldn’t get out of it. I told my two partners that I started the morning crying, just so they knew. The Director started with a prayer and then we started. With tears streaming down my face, I shared why this move now was so hard, what my children had already been through, and that I did not want to add to it. The Director was the one person in our class who was the least confident in her role and future as a spiritual director, and was developing into an artist in retirement, so I wasn’t sure how this was going to go.

At the end of my tearful monologue, she asked me, “what was the story about on the radio?” In the back of mind, I thought it was the wrong question; why wasn’t she asking me about all these feelings of loss and grief? But I answered her question: the story was about a quilting group that made quilts for all the families in their east coast town who lost loved ones during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The story-teller recounted the meaningful, tear-filled moments when they delivered their quilts to the families. Then the Director asked me, “where do you see yourself in that story?”

Suddenly, I remembered that I had received a handmade quilt from the congregation I served when I was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer—that’s what made me cry, even though I did not make the connection on my own! We had been loved, supported, prayed for and helped in every way possible during my treatment, and the quilt—with squares made from each family in the church—was a symbol of all that support.

Her next question was even more startling; “If God were to give you a quilt square for this time in your life, what would it look like?” I responded, “It would probably have a sea of faces on it to remind me that there still is a community of people who will love and support us through this change and loss now, just as before.” Then she said, “If you were to give your children a quilt square, what would you put on it?” The answer was obvious, “It would probably be the same square, to remind them that there is a sea of people—both friends and family—who would help, love and support them in their life even when we’re living in a different state. And then it hit me: perhaps they won’t experience this community of support unless their parents get out of the way! The tears dissipated and a feeling of relief and peace came over me.

Isn’t it amazing what the Spirit can do in ten minutes through someone who doesn’t believe she’s going to be a good Spiritual Director? Her experience as an artist led her to pick up on the image of the quilt, and in that conversation, I received everything I needed. It was truly stunning, especially since I have my breast cancer quilt laying over a chair in my office, and everyone who comes to me for conversation or Spiritual Direction looks right at it!

Even with the quilt staring me in the face every day I walk into my office, I did not make the connection between The Moth story about the 9/11 quilts and my very own quilt. I needed a Spiritual Director to ask me the right questions for me to see and experience God’s presence and love which was always with me. I couldn’t get there on my own. 

Ever wonder how God is working in the daily details of your life that you may not be noticing? If so, may I suggest a Spiritual Director? You will be amazed at what God is doing in and around you!

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