My friends, It has been a long time since I wrote in these pages. No, I didn’t have a writer’s block. I had a very long night. I cannot count the number of funerals and Memorials I have done since my beloved life partner and co-Pastor Judy Beaumont went home to our loving God after a battle with Leukemia, her fourth cancer, in January of 2018. Her loss left me depleted, sad and empty and lonely. And that feeling increased with the years. And many of our Good Shepherd members whom I loved dearly as well joined her in those almost four years since her passing. They were not particularly old, but they had suffered the ravages of homelessness, and poverty, and sometimes serious physical illness, mental illness and or addiction to alcohol or substances. This year alone I presided at three funerals, and I have been there for the consolation of those remaining and of others in mourning, at their sides, where I was asked to be, and where I wanted and needed to be. It seemed to me that I was surrounded with death and loss. The words of Jesus challenged me to be part of the consolation in Matthew 5:4 NIV ” Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted”. Or “Blessed are those who are mourning: they will be consoled” (TIB). The Presence of our loving God was there in the night and did console me. It kept me going when I could have given up. But somehow, the nights and even the days were hard. Sometimes long and hard. Yes, even Pastors and Priests, and maybe especially Pastors and Priests, have times when nothing flows freely and it is like night. Oh we may still do all that is expected of us, but something is missing-it is the joy of life and the joy of salvation. And it is the absence, partial or full, of the essence of life- of love- that gives us cause for joy.
The Scriptures give us words for it: in my Grandmother’s Bible, the KJV, I read Psalm 30:5c: “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning”…and in the Peshitta translated from the original Aramaic of Jesus: “weeping may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning”. And in the NAB- Psalm 30:6b “At nightfall, weeping enters in, but with the dawn, rejoicing”. And continuing in the NAB, verses 12-13: “You changed my mourning into dancing; you took off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness.” Or The Inclusive Bible by the Priests For Equality: “Then you changed my despair into a dance–you stripped me of my death shroud and clothed me with joy” (Psalm 30:11).
The promise is true: God will provide whatever is needed to turn that despair into dancing. But first we must trust that will happen, and then we must have patience, for it is in God’s time, not always ours, and we must remain in communication with God who is Love and let Love know how we feel. Whether it is sadness or anger or fear, or just emptiness share it with God. Sometimes I did not even have the words for it, and that is from a wordsmith who likes words, but I sat before God without words and God heard my heart. I believe God is listening to your heart too, especially if you are mourning or feel that it is night.
In reflecting on mourning and loss, time may not heal all, but it is a factor. It took me more than three years to open my heart to enjoying the company of others, and more than that to realize that maybe I could love again…and more…maybe I could be loved again. I continued to love and be loved by my Good Shepherd Community and my extended family and that had gotten me through the worst of loss. But something was still missing, something I did not dare even name. And for me, it was then that the miracle happened. There she was, someone to love and be loved by. Now, I was speechless- I am past my mid seventies, and I have been through the best and the worst that Life has to offer. I never even dared think I could begin again. But suddenly I was surrounded by new life, by hope, by someone loving me. And after getting over the sheer shock of it, I embraced it and her with all of my being. And so now I say, thank you God for the miracle of love entering my life when I least expected it. Thank you God for your abiding love. And, dear God, teach me how to love again, better than I have ever done before.
It may come for you in a different way, with the love of family, or friends, a new life born, or new friends or new work, or new experiences, or in a similar way, in the presence of a beloved person, but when it comes you will know it and you can say with the Psalmist: JOY COMES IN THE MORNING-THANKS BE TO GOD! And you will throw off those death clothes and you will be dancing!
This is a poem I wrote for my love about where I was:
In deafening silence
In endless aloneness
As life ebbed away
Toward another shore
From sheer loneliness and
just going through the
motions of daily life
and dying inside with each
day’s chores and emptiness
caring for the cats,
and the ducks and birds,
the little moorhens, the
big turtles and muscovys,
smiling at them sometimes,
the little joy I had,
the little secrets of creation
still shared with our Loving God,
caring for the people
given me to serve, so,
like Jesus I didn’t lose any one,
using the last drops of fuel to
reach out to the broken,
reaching out to be with friends
scarce as cool days in Florida,
not giving up, determined to hold on,
barely, barely, by my fingertips, and
laughing at the daily messages about
buying burial insurance and graves,
I carried on,
broken now myself,
yet still feeling the calming
Presence of God,
Who heard the prayers
I could not pray for lack
Of words, who heard my heart,
And still somewhere inside alive,
And needing flesh and blood,
And love, and love,
I pushed along,
Running on empty,
Until you came.
And this is for her:
Beautiful, strong woman,
Woman loving woman,
Woman like me,
Woman loving me,
woman of faith,
woman of intellect,
woman who dares to hope,
who dares to love, to live,
who loves me….loves me,
by an indescribable
miracle of our loving God,
a miracle of indirection and
longing and yearning,
and faintest hope,
you were there. A miracle-
We heard God speaking- we heard Her voice,
Our voices then matched in tone
In sheer quiet intensity,
With fear and hesitance underneath,
with so few words, and signs,
you took the leap, we took the leap,
you took a chance, we took a chance,
and in the midst of some chaos,
the kind we both produced in our lives
while hoping for more, hoping for love,
You broke through the silence,
You pierced through the emptiness
And you reached my very heart and soul.
Matched by a Loving God wiser than us,
We are matched in soul, in calling,
In thinking, in service, in values, and
In the need to join ourselves in complete
and glorious union of body and soul,
before we leave this earth.
My beloved woman, how perfectly we fit,
How easily we complete each other,
and how that love spills out
to grow the kin-dom of God on earth.
Oh how blessed we are,
I love you so,
How amazing this is,
And oh, how long we have waited.
Oh, thanks be to God, and to you
You are God’s perfect gift
to make us fully alive.
OH Thank you God, You turned my despair into dancing!
So do not despair if you too are mourning, or in a holding pattern, open your heart to our Loving God and wait for the morning when JOY comes again. Then, dance with me.
With Love and Blessings and Hope,
Rev. Dr. Judy Lee, RCWP
Pastor Good Shepherd Ministries of SWFL
“I will make roads through all the mountains and my highways will be raised up… because they are on their way from afar…Shout for joy you heavens! Exalt you earth! For YHWH consoles the people and takes pity on those afflicted….Does a woman forget her baby at her breast, or fail to cherish the child of her womb? Yet even if these forget, I will never forget you. Look and see: I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands….”( Isaiah 49: 11-16 excerpted TIB). How blessed are we that our loving God regards us as a mother regards her children and will never forget or abandon us. I am struck with the feminine voice of God here. There is no love like a mother’s love and that is God’s love for us. But it is even better, because, the prophet allows that human mothers may forget their children, but our loving God will not forget Her children.
So no matter what happens on the road, we may well experience affliction, we may get ourselves into trouble and forget the way, but we will not be lost and we will not be harmed and we will find the way back into God’s loving arms. Indeed we also ponder the return of the “prodigal son”( or daughter as we are to put ourselves in the story) in Jesus’ parable of the two sons in relation to their father who deeply loves and welcomes home the one who did everything wrong (Luke 15:11-31). If during this Lent we can confront where we have turned away, God is so eager to welcome us back. This is also what King David sings of in Psalm 51 when he responds to the counsel of the prophet Nathan after his adulterous encounter with Bathsheba. “Because of your love and your great compassion wipe away my faults (other translation- “transgressions”);wash me clean of my guilt;…for I am aware of my faults/transgressions….O God, create a clean heart in me, put into me a new and steadfast spirit….be my savior again, renew my joy, keep my spirit steady and willing; and I will teach transgressors your ways….” : Let us pause and think that over.
Pope Francis said about the start of the Lenten season, Ash Wednesday: “Ashes are sprinkled on our heads so that the fire of love can be kindled in our hearts”. He points out that “Our earthly possessions will prove useless, dust that scatters, but the love we share–in our families, at work, in the Church and in the world will save us, for it will endure forever.”
Are you feeling that love in yourself, in your life? Or has your love dried up and shriveled with so many things choking it out. Sometimes my daily life is all I can manage. There is also the daily care for over 20 abandoned and sometimes ill cats, living inside and outside. I am blessed to have a young man, Gaspare Randazzo to help me with these chores a few days a week. And out of this work together he has maintained his mental health and completed his GED and obtained not only his first jobs but a car. Yes, my every day contains loving but there is so much more I can do to love. I am praying with you that love will come alive as lent progresses.
It strikes me that as we find love and renewal with our loving God, then our joy flows over to others to reach and thereby teach and heal them in their pain and trouble. We then share our loving God and God’s ways with others. We do not simply feel better ourselves, we share the love we have been so freely given -we let the light shine!
The words of the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 49 tells of God’s relationship with “the suffering servant”, the Israelites. And the promise and love described here is for the whole people of God, of Israel, who will be (and were) returned to their land. We also see it as applying to Christ as Master Teacher, best love and friend, and, yes, as suffering servant,and to ourselves and all who inevitably face suffering and all manner of troubles on our journeys. Christ Jesus who knew knew no transgressions suffered fickle rejection and the extreme punishment of the cross and he rose three days later destroying death forever as foretold in Isaiah 25. The final and stark reality of death is one that only God could address and God did this through our loving Jesus, the Christ.
I have been struggling with thoughts of retirement from Ministry- not ministry in general but from pastoring my Good Shepherd congregation which continues over time whether we meet regularly or not! It simply continues as the people of God. I am well beyond retirement years. In order to pursue ministry full time I retired from a career as a Master’s level University Professor (of Social Work) of 27 years. I retired again from jobs serving the youth of Lee County in the Middle Schools, and instead in 2007 Judy Beaumont and I developed Good Shepherd Ministries where we worked full time for as long as we both could. Now my work with GS Ministries and Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community here in Fort Myers is part time, at least some of the time. Other times it takes all I have to give. I am blessed to have friends, Judy Alves, Rena Kopp and Carol Schauf who share ministry with me, and Ellen McNally who encourages me even in the midst of her own grief at losing her beloved husband Jack. And I am blessed to have seasonal supportive help in Rev. Judith McKloskey, RCWP from Missouri and part time help from my Associate, Rvda. Marina Teresa Sanchez Mejia though she also must work full time. ( Her job is also her ministry. In her CNA job at the local hospital’s covid rehab ward, she was able to anoint and pray with our beloved Jack McNally as he lay dying of Covid).
I am so grateful for their help, but I get tired and that is a major struggle for me. Part of that struggle is being tired in natural ways, but part of it is wrapped in the grief of losing my life and ministry partner, Judy Beaumont. Part of being tired is also facing what it is like not to be young anymore. Part of it is realistic and part of it is giving up. What I have confronted this Lenten season is the part that is just giving up. I am praying to let that go! And then I find instead renewal of my spirit and the strength and will to respond to the needs of my people, of God’s people, all around me. As they call on me I can respond. I can anoint and visit the very sick. I can bury the dead and console the grieving. I can counsel the young and those with very difficult problems. I can be there for God’s people. I think as every Pastor knows deep inside- there is no full retirement. (Indeed, every Christ follower knows this). Nor need there be for God gives the strength to do what is needed. There can be a slowing down as needed. But once called and committed one simply cannot ignore the needs of God’s people. So here is how I just “kept on keepin’on” as pastor and minister of the Good News in the last few months.
In Isaiah 25 the promise of life is broadened for “all peoples”. “On this mountain YHWH omnipotent will prepare for all peoples a banquet of rich food, a banquet of fine wines,…On this mountain God will remove the mourning veil covering all peoples, the shroud covering all nations, destroying all death forever. God will wipe away the tears from every cheek….On that Day it will be said, ‘This is our God, this is the One for whose liberation we waited. YHWH is the One in whom we have hoped! We rejoice exultantly in our deliverance, for the hand of YHWH rests on this mountain!” (Isaiah 25: 6-9 excerpted TIB). God is there on the mountain, in the midst of our troubled times and even our giving up, God is destroying all the ways we find to die while living and death itself in its finality through Christ who rose again vanquishing death itself. God is offering us life NOW and FOREVER! Wow! We are so blessed!
Here indeed is the joy of my salvation, for I am joyful in God’s presence-in creation-in nature; in quiet and contemplation so I can write; and mainly when active in the lives of God’s people whom I am privileged to love and serve.
Here I am with Felice and her baby Daniel and sister Maya. I am so thankful for the young that God has given me to love and sometimes guide.
Above I am blessing our friend and Good Shepherd supporter, Stella Odie-Ali before she undergoes a difficult medical procedure. On this same day I anointed our dear GS member Ann Palmer, who was in Hospice care weeks before her 91st Birthday. GS member Judy Alves assisted me with this as did about twelve members of Ann’s family. What a loving family surrounded her. Ann’s singing of “This is Holy Ground” and saying of Jesus’ prayer was loud and clear and beautiful to hear. Ann was a most special member of our GS Church. As a traditional and cradle Catholic and community Matriarch she found the ministry of two women priests to be “just what she was waiting for”. She attended Mass, services and all of our gatherings as she was able since my Ordination in 2008. She loved the children of the church especially and always donated funds for ice cream for them. Everyone looked forward to her gentle and happy presence. Finally her great heart began to wear out and two weeks after her anointing she was peacefully taken home to God. Pastor Judith McKloskey and I did the graveside ceremony, commending her great loving spirit to our loving God forever.
Jesus also takes us aside and asks us to rest with him. This is the little lake behind my house where I renew my spirit every day as I feed and visit the ducks, water birds and turtles. This is my best time with God as I give thanks for Creation. And below I am at Fort Myers Beach also renewing my spirit with Creation.
Last week we met with Mr. Gary and Roger Richardson and Quay Crews and Joe Baker for Eucharist and anointing and for planning our first outside church gathering since Covid 19 invaded one year ago. We consulted with many church members including Jolinda Harmon, Brenda Cummings and Kathy Roddy. Our plan is to meet outside of Gary and Quay’s home at Goodwill Housing in East Fort Myers. This will be on Saturday March 20th,2021. If anyone is in the area and interested in joining us, please get in touch with me and i will give you the details. All will be welcome!
Thank you for sharing a little of my Lenten journey. I would love to hear about yours and keep you in my prayers.
Love and Blessings,
Pastor Judy Lee, RCWP
Rev. Dr. Judith A. B. Lee
Good Shepherd Ministries of SW Fl and
Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community of Fort Myers