Spiritual Reflections

The Gifts of Vulnerability

What have I learned here? Two of the greatest gifts, patience and surrender, both showed up in full bloom to help me keep moving forward.

My awareness of my own vulnerability has sharpened quite a bit in the past several months, but a deeper reflection led me to look back several years and see its earlier, hidden roots. Three years ago in early March, I was visiting my brother Joe and his wife, Judy, in Bonita Springs, FL, for a week of sunshine and family fun. This week away guaranteed many activities I had come to love: time to truly rest, a swim in the pool, family outings, trolling the nearest thrift shops for great sales, and gulf side dining each evening. Relaxation, beauty and fun with loved ones! Perfection. 

“Another day in paradise,” Joe would call out. And it was! Yet it was on my return flight I heard the first warnings of a strange, new virus and by the time I landed back in New York I felt fear starting to stir. How could I leave Florida with its packed beaches and shops and have so little knowledge of the word Covid? In Manhasset, the sound of sirens began to shatter the air as our local hospitals began to fill up, as hundreds a day began to die. And slowly, the entire city came to a grinding stop. We had barely an inkling of just how vulnerable we really were. 

My retreat ministry at Our Lady of Grace Spiritual Center came to a halt too. Who wanted to gather in person in such challenging days? Temperature checks. Hand sanitation. Contact information. Deep cleaning products. All with no guaranties of safety. Covid put the entire world population at risk. We were all vulnerable. Yet it took a great deal of pain and loss before we could begin to understand it. 

Pema Chodron calls vulnerability a part of the human experience. In her book, Living with Vulnerability, she writes,

“If we move towards it, it has so much to teach us… having a relationship to things falling apart can be life changing.”

Pema Chodron

She goes on to say that this relationship can lead us to gratitude and joy. She identifies three ways to be vulnerable: 1) Acknowledge your emotions, 2) Live with integrity, being true to what you value in life, 3) Celebrate what you achieve. 

Such practices can lead to confidence, serenity, joy and growth. Vulnerability does slowly bear fruit. 

During the next two years of Covid, life settled into its own strange rhythm. We lost Joe, our brother, that first year, not to Covid, but to cancer. It was the largest void I had yet to enter and one I am still processing. Year two brought my own Covid infection, which I recovered from slowly but steadily thanks to the infusion drugs. Virtual life continued. In the final year we slowly began making small efforts to open the spiritual center. Guests were very tentative in their initial response to gathering in person, but the return slowly began. Our cook departed because of her husband’s illness and we lost our housekeeper due to her own ill health… blows from which we have yet to recover. 

I credit two spiritual directors, Carol Mackey and Joan McGovern, for saving us through their generous offer of Zoom retreats and reflections. Through these three years their support and spirituality enabled us to gather people from near and far to feed their spiritual needs and desires. 

In this same period my own health began to slowly deteriorate. Tests, therapy and injections all failed to provide relief. I began to walk with one cane and eventually moved to two canes. A test finally showed that the issue was not my back but a hip destroyed by arthritics. After surgery, I was invited to recuperate at Our Lady of Peace Residence in Scranton, PA, where our ill and retired sisters reside. I expected to be here for four or perhaps five weeks at most… and here I sit typing this, six months into my little journey. My one surgery was soon followed by two more separate surgeries, each requiring weeks of healing and recovery time. I am now relearning how to walk with physical therapy and every tiny step forward is rewarding. I am also relearning how to use a computer since these six months have eroded my slight tech skills to a degree that astonishes me. Let me welcome “humility” who shows up so frequently that we are becoming fast friends. 

This period introduced me face to face with my own vulnerability in a way never before experienced. Here, among my suffering elders, I faced the reality of my limitations, allowed myself to find joy in the kindnesses of many as well as in the crumbs of joy hidden in a million unexpected places. That’s quite a bit of joy and lots more than my greatest hopes. Sister Eleanor Mary Marconi shared a reflection at a prayer service this week and I asked for a copy for deeper reading. In it, Joan Howard writes, “When I recall some of the beautiful, loving, gentle people I know, a good portion are elderly. Some seem exquisite like a supple ancient tapestry- worn in spots, often thread-patched in places. Yet having a soft patina emanating from them. In the loneliness of illness and limitations, they seem whole and holy.” Yes, my heart echoed, this is exactly what I discovered here at OLP… the whole and the holy. 

Two groups must be celebrated: First, the sisters who reside here, as diverse a group as you might find in any nursing home, but wise, centered, generous souls who let fun and learning shape their lives, who stay close to their Creator in prayer, reflection groups and meditation. They are prayerful, playful, well-read and smart, have their favorite games and are always ready for a party. They love to talk and they love to win. They are also accepting, open-minded and supportive. They are fulfilling the ministry of accompaniment as together they walk each other to their eternal home. They see the limitations those living with them face, and they see past these, in a heart-to-heart sharing that knows how to surpass those limits. I am not sure we will ever see their like again. 

The second caring group to be celebrated are the nurses, caregivers and aides. They consider the physical and emotional well-being of each sister they care for, and respect the dignity of each person they assist. The sisters are moving into the most vulnerable period of their lives. Through their caregivers, sisters experience daily support and concern for their well-being and frequent efforts to relieve their suffering and pain. Our sisters are looked after as God would himself look after them, with open-hearted generosity. They are cared for in a spirit that is grace filled and motivated by love. They are full of encouragement and seemingly endless energy, and they are ever mindful of their need to assist diverse sisters in forming themselves into a true community of grace. They carry heavy loads daily, drive home in all kinds of crazy weather conditions, and return for the next shift ready to do it all over again. They create circles of fun and joy. Some of these women have been caring for IHM sisters for over 40 years, and I often think they know us better than we know ourselves. What a legacy of skill, care, integrity and devotion they’ve built over their many years of service. Their impact cannot be measured… our gift and treasure! 

What have I learned here? Two of the greatest gifts, patience and surrender, both showed up in full bloom to help me keep moving forward. And I have seen in others such courage, empathy, strength, and acceptance that I realize that the very vulnerability on which OLP is built is the source of these many virtues. 

If in the next weeks I take my leave and return to New York, I will return a changed woman, shaped by my many experiences here these past six months. My time here has been one of healing and I will carry the blessings of this time with me long into the future. I pray for those who have been so good to me, and I will hold each retired sister a little closer in prayer. It was sisters on our leadership team who first suggested I come here. Thank you. My days at OLP were the perfect antidote to those long, endless Covid days I first experienced three years ago. They have allowed me to live more fully in hope and gifted me with a gladness I hardly deserve, a small taste of Resurrection and new life. 


  1. A Prayer for Caregivers: 
  2. Living with Vulnerability by Pema Chodron 
  3. Joan Howard (Creighton University Online Ministries):

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