There are moments in life when it feels difficult to put one foot in front of the other. At times like this, we have a decision to make – show up or give up. Through a myriad of life experiences, I have learned that showing up is the only option. It’s a signal to ourselves and others that we believe in hope over fear. It is also a quiet nod in the darkness of despair that we refuse to give in to negativity and defeat. Showing up might not seem like a big deal to some but it is a positive sign that despite the challenges we are facing, we are still willing to trust in the God of love who says, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of participating as a Volunteer Leader at a Lenten Retreat for about 40 women inmates at a local prison. I didn’t know what to expect since I normally attend Mass with these beautiful women but this event turned out to be a gift which has helped me on my journey of learning how to just show up when life is challenging. After an encouraging program centered on trusting Jesus, our retreat leaders – a religious sister and Jesuit priest – asked the volunteers to form a line so the retreat participants could receive a blessing before returning to their buildings in the prison. When we were finished blessing everyone, one of the participants jumped over to the volunteer side of the line, followed by a few other women and then invited us, the volunteers, to take our turn passing through the line. The next few moments were surreal. With love and gratitude, the retreat participants prayerfully blessed us, the volunteers, as we passed through the line. It was a moment of grace and beauty which I will never forget.
The women who had chosen to attend the retreat had made a conscience decision – to show up in faith, despite the tragedy of their circumstances. Many of them have been victims of abuse, violence and horror – much more than most of us can imagine. But, in spite of their plight as incarcerated women, they showed up, sharing the gift of themselves with grateful beneficiaries. As I drove home that day I thought about these women – their heroic courage, deep faith and downright determination to show up and work towards a better day. They are an inspiration to me and so many other volunteers. Indeed they have much to teach us.
Showing up when we don’t feel like it can be tough, believe me, I know. Recently my pain levels have been high and I have not been able to go about my daily routine as normal. Thinking about these beautiful women at the prison has given me the courage to hang in there and give it my best each day, whatever that may be. Over the years, I have learned that when we refrain from complaining, self-pity and the like – we demonstrate a willingness to put our own challenges into proper perspective, remembering that everyone is carrying a cross of some kind. I’ve also learned that it is in the midst of our sufferings, when we choose to go forward, that we glorify God thus making a positive difference in life for ourselves and others. (Of course my mom Joanie demonstrated this heroic reality throughout her lifetime and especially during her 3-year battle with cancer. )
(A few current and past photos below of showing up.)
If for any reason you find yourself feeling stuck, struggling, uncertain, suffering, hopeless or in pain – I invite you to – just show up. Others are doing it under very difficult circumstances and so can you. Through the example of heroes like the women at the prison and my Mom, I have learned to take life one day at a time, not look back with regret- and just show up trusting in the mercy and love of God.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:27