Peggy Writes

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Lilacs, Rwanda, Immaculee and Women’s Inner Strength

Have you noticed the lilac bushes are in bloom?   In the Midwest every spring in early May the streets and yards are lined with beautiful purple fragrant lilacs.   Perhaps you grew up with a Common lilac, Persian lilac, Dwarf Korean variety, Himalayan, Chinese lilac or even a lilac tree.    My sister Linda Kay Doyle had a beautiful white lilac bush that she cherished.  It was an exceptionally fragrant lilac in her yard, just off her deck.    My sister Linda died 10 years ago today, May 5 2005.   She was an avid gardener and whenever I would visit her home, we would walk arm and arm around her yard to explore what was currently in bloom.

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Linda was an educator who was very compassionate and cognizant about the surrounding world.   She was always giving me fiction and non-fiction books that would get me thinking.   We had long conversations about the underlying theme of books such as the Kite Runner and The Red Tent.   The week before she passed she urged me to watch the movie Hotel Rwanda with Don Cheadle.

Hotel Rwanda is the story of the 1994 horrific genocide that took the lives of one million people who were brutally murdered in Rwanda, Africa.   In an era of high-speed communication and round the clock news, the events went almost unnoticed by the rest of the world.   In three months, one million Tutsis; men, women and children were massacred by the hands of the Hutu marauders.   The movie shared the courage of one man who in the face of unspeakable dangers granted shelter to thousands of helpless refugees in the hotel that he managed.

I never had the chance to chat with Linda about her thoughts on the Rwanda genocide.  And yet, two years after she passed, I learned about a woman who survived that genocide and knew that I had to hear her story.  Immaculee llibagiza was a Tutsis college student, who was urged to go into hiding by her father.   Immaculee found shelter at a pastor’s home, where she and seven other women hid from the deadly rebel mob in a 3-by-4 foot bathroom for 91 days.    During those 91 days of unimaginable suffering, Immaculee found her faith, taught herself English and most incredibly, committed herself to a life of peace, hope and forgiveness.  Even for those who had murdered her family.

Last week, I was privileged to attend a luncheon entitled “Aid for Women” and the keynote speaker was again Immaculee.  She again shared her powerful life lessons from her Rwanda experience of love, forgiveness and world peace.    The organization she spoke was in support of Aid for Women, which has been instrumental in providing support for women and especially empowering women to choose life.  They provide funding to Heather’s House, a home for unwed mothers providing education, medical assistance, spiritual and housing support.  You can read more about their organization at www.helpaidforwomen.org.   You can read one of Immaculee’s several books or watch this short video about her story.

Linda placed an enormous value on the inner strength within a women and the bond of friendship between women.   Considering Linda’s own health limitations, nothing held her back and I knew she drew strength from faith, friendship and family.   Where do you draw strength to be the women God intended you to be?  How do you age gracefully and rest within the challenges of your life, the body we have been given and live within our unique giftedness?  How do the relationships in your life help you to fly?  Helping women explore these questions have become my life work.   Thank you, Linda!!!!

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Henri Nouwen The Return of the Prodigal Son

Lent started for me, after having just finished reading The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri J.M. Nouwen.    Henri Nouwen’s reflection of Rembrandt painting is an amazing journey and a worthwhile read.  My brief reflection doesn’t accurately portray the impact this book has had on my spiritual journey, yet I wanted to share two takeaways.

The Prodigal Son

I grew up in a large close-knit family of 9 children.   My older brother, for a period of 10 years was separated from our family.   He was living out of state and was busy working.  He missed several major family events such as the birth of several of my children, my Father’s 75 birthday and all the holidays.   I was angry and hurt, but at the same time I also missed him.   Honestly, I was also indignant that he wasn’t around to help our parents.   I thought he didn’t care.    Eventually, he came home around the time my dad was dying.  During my dad’s final year my brother moved into their home, he rolled up his sleeves, opened up his heart and embraced all of their physical and emotional needs.

Having heard the Prodigal Son over the years and being in the midst of my brother being gone, I pictured myself as the elder brother.   One day during his absence, I remember visiting my mom and watching her tears and pain about her one lost sheep, her son.   At that time, I felt slighted and even annoyed that she would continue to care so deeply for him since he has not been around or even truly connected with us for over a decade.  Sitting in front of my mom, I had a feeling of emptiness in heart and a wondering of why she wasn’t recognizing me.  Henri Nouwen’s reflection brought those feelings to life for me, as well as the deeper internal pain I had experienced around that time.

“When I listen carefully to the words with which the elder son attacks his father ~~self-righteous, self-pitying, jealous words~~  I hear a deeper complaint.  It is the complaint that comes from a heart that feels it never received what it was due.  It is the complaint expressed in countless subtle and not-so-subtle ways, forming bedrock of human resentment.  It is the complaint that cries out: “I tried so hard, worked so long, did so much, and still I have not received what others get so easily.  Why do people not thank me, not invite me, not play with me, and not honor me, while they pay so much attention to those who take life so easily and so casually?”

I ordered a print of Rembrandt’s painting and it now hangs in our home, in a clear bright room over the piano.   Fifteen years have passed since sitting in-front of my mother and now I sit before this painting.   While I gaze on the younger son, the elder son and the father in this painting, I am mulling over Nouwen’s words and through my own prayer, I recognize I am also similar to the younger son.

“I am the prodigal son every time I search for unconditional love where it cannot be found.  Why do I keep ignoring the place of true love and persist in looking for it elsewhere?  Why do I keep leaving home where I am called a child of God, the Beloved of my Father?  I am constantly surprised at how I keep taking the gifts God has given me  ~~my health, my intellectual and emotional gifts~~ and keep using them to impress people, receive affirmation and praise, and compete for rewards, instead of developing them for the glory of God.”

Lent calls us into a time of prayer.   In prayer as we get to know ourselves better, we gain a better understanding of God.   Allowing God to transform our hearts is a gift.

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 peggy@creatingspaceinyourlife.comShe is the Founder & President of Creating Space, LLC., a ministry helping people enrich their faith. Follow Peggy at www.creatingspaceinyourlife.com.  Peggy O’Flaherty, is a certified spiritual director, public speaker, blog writer, wife and mother of five children. Her recent writing projects include:

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