This summer my sister invited our entire extended family to her lake house in Michigan for our annual family reunion. My parents have 9 children, 28 grandchildren and 6 great grandchildren. This year we were 32. It was bitter sweet, as this was the first year at the lake after losing my father in February. We slept in bunk beds, cots, on the floor, in the closet and even in tents. Some of our highlights include boating, fishing, tubing, splashing in the water, pontoon rides and relaxing by the fire with gooey smores. My sisters have a zest for life as they laugh loud and often, play in the water like children and treasure each child as their own. My brother and brother-in-laws are so patient working with all the teens as they learn how to water ski for the first time. They teach each child how to bait a hook, and they build the best camp fires. Savoring life and family is the way they demonstrate their love.
Relaxing at the lake offers countless treasures. Our family ritual of enjoying a cup of coffee in the morning as the sun begins to rise over the peaceful lake. We watch the lone fisherman troll across the lake and smile as a family of ducks paddle along. Through the busy-ness of our life it seems almost impossible to enter into meaningful conversations with those we love the most. Yet lake time provides us these opportunities. One lazy afternoon while sitting at the edge of the lake, my grown niece shared how she juggles a career, along with her need to return to school for an advanced degree. Later that day, my college-age niece shared about her intern experience at Maui Jim Sunglasses and her hopes to start her own business. My nephew shared with me his desire to find a new church that will guide him into becoming the father, husband and man that he so hopes to become. I treasure the time to rest and listen to their challenges and joys of life.
After dinner one evening my sister shared how she struggles with understanding and knowing her faith and God as an adult. We shared experiences of knowing God’s existence in our childhood. We reminisced how our family practiced our faith traditions and our certainty of God’s presence during my dad’s hospice and final passing. Yet she still wrestles with the mysteries of our faith and what she expressed as “rules”. She said “It makes me sad when people feel that I am not a believer if I don’t go to Sunday service.” Then she began to sing her favorite church song for me.
“Peter do you love me? Peter do you love me?
And again Jesus asked Peter do you really love me?
Then feed my sheep he said, Peter feed my sheep.”
She was brought to tears and we both sat silently looking out over the lake. In a sense, tears represent a prayer, as it is how we can express or communicate to God when we have no words for such a deep emotion. The question that rose up within me to ask my sister was, “How does it feel to know that someone, being God, loves you that much?”
Several years back as I was wrestling with an issue regarding my self-image and God, a trusted friend posed a similar question. We were discussing the greatest commandment that we received from Jesus, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind’ and the second commandment “love your neighbor as yourself.” She asked me “do you love yourself?” and “can you love your neighbor, husband, children fully if you don’t love yourself?” Just like with my sister, my friend left me speechless. In all honesty, I wasn’t quite ready to answer that as I had parts of myself that I didn’t especially like and perhaps I even loathed. On my wedding day my father made a speech along the lines of “Being my partner would be a bit of Taming of the Shrew.”
Over the last two years, the depths of those two questions my friend posed have brought me to tears, have challenged me to think and have drawn me into pray. I found it hard to believe that even “with my faults,” God loves me unconditionally; God made me exactly the way He wants me; and that I can choose to find joy in my areas of growth. Surely, I have room for growth and areas that my personality and temperament still need to be ‘tamed.’ As I work on these areas, I remind myself of, appreciate and work towards Thomas Merton’s wisdom. “There is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God. If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find him.” – Thomas Merton
This blog is based on the personal experiences and opinions of Peggy O’Flaherty. Any reproduction of the material in this blog may be used with written consent of the author by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Peggy O’Flaherty, is a certified spiritual director, public speaker, blog writer, wife and mother of five children. Her recent writing projects include “Who Is Listening?” and “Why Clean Your Garage?” She is the Founder & President of Creating Space, LLC., a ministry helping people enrich their faith. Follow Peggy at www.creatingspaceinyourlife.com.