Thursday, February 22, 2018

Books for Living, Part Two: Thursday's Reflection

If you read my most recent post "Books for Living, Part One," you know lately I have been attracted to memoirs about living and dying with cancer. Reading them, I have realized the audience is not narrowly limited to those who have cancer or whose loved ones have cancer, but to all of us who one day will die. 

That would be me. 

That would be you. 

The lessons these books offer is how to live now. How to live more generous, intentional, open-hearted lives. 

I promised in Part I I would share some examples from what I've been reading and in some cases my responses and reflections. Here goes:

From Everything Happens For A Reason and Other Lies I've Loved by Kate Bowler. What a different book this would be if the title were just "Everything Happens for a Reason." When someone who is trying to be kind repeats this pat phrase to the author's husband, he responds, "I'd love to hear it." Just exactly what is the reason. A friend of the author's who is in the midst of her own tough reality says, "Why is everyone trying to teach me a lesson?" 

Have you ever found yourself saying the "everything happens for a reason" line? I probably have or at the least tried to figure out "why" something has happened or is present in my life or the world around me. 

This simple statement, it seems to me, takes me off the hook, for it isn't that different from "that's the way it is." If that's the way it is, period, then I have no responsibility to discover my own resiliency and strengths and yes, weaknesses, too. Why bother then seeking to deepen my relationship with God or to unearth the possible wisdom and growth in the pain and loss? 

I don't think cancer or any other unwanted plight is given to us, finger wagging, "Now, maybe you will learn x, y, or z." Instead, I think because we are challenged in all kinds of ways, certainly not just physically, we can use our predicaments to live more deeply, more wisely, more humanely, more authentically. Nobody says that is easy, however, as these memoirs all depict. 

Now mind you, I definitely don't have this all figured out and perhaps that is why I turn to the real life struggles of others. I need their real life expertise. 

Here's what Bowler says, 

                The only thing worse than saying this is 
                pretending that you know the reason. I've
                had hundreds of people tell me the reason for
                my cancer. Because of my sin. Because of my
                unfaithfulness. Because God is fair. Because 
                God is unfair. Because of my aversion to Brussels
                sprouts. I mean, no one is short of reasons...When
                someone is drowning, the only thing worse than
                failing to throw them a life preserver is handing 
                them a reason.  p. 170

What should you say, according to Bowler?
                *  I'ld love to bring you a meal this week. Can I
                email you about it. 
                *  You are a beautiful person.
                *  I'm so grateful to hear about how you're doing and
                just know that I'm on your team.
                *  Can I give you a hug?
                *  Oh, my friend, that sounds so hard.

And perhaps the best thing to do is to "Show up and shut up." The gift of listening. 

I guess there needs to be a "Books for Living, Part III," and I suspect I will do that at some point, but this seems like enough for now. 

An Invitation
What have you learned about yourself by walking with someone else's pain? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Books for Living, Part One: Tuesday's Reflection

It seems I have been reading lots of books about cancer and about dying lately. Several other books on the same topic are on my shelf waiting to be read. And, of course, I have read many others over the years. 

Why is that? I don't have cancer, although many years ago I had uterine cancer, but as my gynecologist said, "If you have to have cancer, this one is a good one to have." I do, therefore, have some small insight into what happens when you enter the cancer world, but the surgery did the trick and all has been well since then. 

When we lived in Cleveland, I worked for an amazing organization whose mission was to offer support services for those with cancer and their loved ones. I offered spirituality-themed programming for the center, but that work ended when we moved. 

So why do these books seem relevant or have appeal now? There is more than one reason.

1.     Because I am writing my own spiritual memoir, I often read other memoirs and have discovered how many memoirs about the cancer experience, which for some leads towards death, are deeply reflective and yes, spiritual. I learn about the craft of telling one's story from these writers. 

2.      How many people do you know who are dealing with a cancer diagnosis or recovering from treatment or are moving forward as a cancer survivor? How many people do you know who have died from cancer? By the time one gets to the 3rd Chapter stage of life, that list is apt to be long--and growing. These books help me open my heart to them.

3.       I turn 70 this spring and I am aware of how the bottom half of my hourglass contains more sand than the top half and how quickly the remaining sand seems to be flowing from top to bottom.  These books are teachers for me about life, and I intend to live as wholeheartedly as I can in whatever gift of years I have. So far so good.

Lessons Offered
What have I learned? What has inspired me? Sorry, but you'll have to wait till Part II of this post, which will come Thursday, but here's a teaser from Dying, A Memoir by Cory Taylor


            A bucket list implies a lack, a store of unfulfilled desires
            or aspirations, a worry that you haven't done enough
            with your life. It suggests that more experience is better
            whereas the opposite might equally be true. I don't have
            a bucket list because it comforts me to remember the
            things I have done, rather than hanker after the things 
            I haven't done. Whatever they are, I figure they weren't
            for me, and that gives me a sense of contentment, a
            sort of ballad as I set out on my very last trip.

My Response
I don't have a Bucket List either, which is not to say there aren't things I would like to do (a second trip to Paris would be lovely, for example). Instead, I have an Open List:
               Open to the Ongoing Presence of God
               Open to the Beauty Around Me
               Open to Gratefulness
               Open to Enrichment of Relationships--New and Old
               Open to My Own Life Lessons
               Open to What Others Can Teach Me
               Open to Opportunities for Service
               Open to Whatever Is Next

Obviously, I can't check anything off my Open List, for these are ongoing gifts. 

Stay tuned for Part II. 

An Invitation
Have you read anything recently that has opened you to your own life? I would love to know. 

Books in the Photographs
1. Everything Happens for a Reason And Other Lies I've Loved by Kate Bowler
2. Breast Cancer, A Soul Journey by Patricia Greer
3. Hoping for More, Having Cancer, Talking Faith, and Accepting Grace by Deanna A. Thompson
4.  After Your Ring the Bell...10 Challenges for the Cancer Survivor by Anne Katz
5.  Memoir of a Debunked Woman by Susan Gubar
6.  A Goodness I Cannot Explain, A Medical-Spiritual Memoir by Catherine Stewart
7.  Dying, A Memoir by Cory Taylor

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Winter Wonderland: Thursday's Reflection

This is for all of you who escape to warmer temperatures in the winter time.

I want you to know it is still possible to go to the beach in the winter. In Minnesota. 

Bruce and I are just back from a few days at Grandview Lodge in northern Minnesota where, I admit, we spent more time in front of the fire reading and looking out on the beach than actually at the beach. We had a view of the white expanse of Gull Lake. Instead of surfers and swimmers, we saw the occasional snowmobile zip across the lake or a car heading out to an ice house. 

I love this time of year. Yes, I know it is cold, often terribly cold, and this has been one of those winters when the temperature has often been in the single digits or lower. And yes, I know it gets a bit wearisome to bundle up, layer over layer, and to clomp around in heavy boots. And yes, I know, I no longer need to worry about the icy roads in order to get to or from work. Those were stressful years. Now when we are in the midst of a snowstorm or the roads haven't yet been plowed, I have the luxury of staying right where I am.  

Because I am an introvert, a writer and a voracious reader, I don't get cabin fever. I don't mind the lack of light when I get up in the morning or how early it becomes dark in the evening. Wrapped in the darkness, I slow down and take a deep breath. I read one more page, say one more prayer, sit a few more minutes in meditation. I ease both into and out of the day, listening, paying attention to the rhythm of the day. 

In Minnesota many of our winter days are sunny, brilliantly so, and one imagines it might be sweater weather. In fact, as I write this on Wednesday it is 41 degrees out there, and I know mittens will be lost on the school playgrounds today, and teenagers will emerge in shorts and without jackets. Some of the crusty snow will melt and icicles will drip, but we aren't done yet. Snow is predicted later in the week, and I can stay in my cave. Yes!

Winter reminds me that I can choose to see beauty, and I can choose to find the goodness in the unfolding of a day. I can be present to what is, even if the weather changes my schedule, my plan. Life in each season reminds me how quickly time passes and how each of us evolves from one season of life to another. Winter days may not seem to pass quickly, but wasn't it just the New Year and now it is midFebruary, and soon it will be March and on and on it goes. 

Here's what I suggest--no matter what the weather is like where you live. Pause, inside or outside, and notice, just notice. Feel yourself in the presence of the day, the gift of this day. 

An Invitation
What did you notice? I would love to know. 

Bonus: Last weekend we went to see the snow and ice castles created near downtown Stillwater, MN --just for winter fun and beauty. Stillwater Ice Castle

Thursday, February 8, 2018

An Ordinary Day: Thursday's Reflection

NOTE: I am going to take a brief break and my next post will be 
Thursday, February 15.

Wednesday Morning: I slept late this morning and, in fact, I am still in my pajamas as I write this post. I have stripped the bed and will throw the sheets in the washer when I go downstairs to take a shower, but in the meantime I enter my day gently.

I walked up the stairs to the garret, and as I always do, I paused on the landing and looked out the window to the backyard. Ah, we have a fresh dusting of snow. Such lovely snows we have had this winter--wispy, cleansing snow. 

I sat in my Girlfriend Chair for morning devotion time. I hoped I could focus, for I have a cold, just an ordinary cold, but yesterday was a busy day, and I couldn't give into it or let it take over. Today I can wrap it in flannel. Today I can slow down and listen to its rhythm. 

I opened Joan Chittister's The Breath of the Soul, Reflections on Prayer to read today's brief message, which is about "routine." 

               Morning prayer done every day, consciously 
               and contemplatively, defines the attitudes we will
               take into the day with us. It gives us a framework
               for looking at life that gets behind the burden of
               the day to come and the warnings of impending
               disaster that come with the morning news. It takes
               us to the source of what it will take to sustain us
               as we go.


Tucked in the book is a small square of paper with a single name on it. Zack. During Sunday's church service we were invited to write a prayer concern and place it in a basket near the font. During Communion we could randomly select one of the other pieces of paper to guide our prayers during the week. 

Each morning I have held this small green piece of paper, and it has felt like I am holding Zack. I don't know Zack. I don't know who requested prayers for him or why. It is enough to know he needs prayers, and he heads my list this week. God be with you, Zack.

My prayers anchored this morning time, and I am grateful for I feel a bit woosey. Is that a word? Maybe this cold has declared temporary ownership of my body. Yesterday I finished the book I was reading during meditation time, and now it is time to choose another--normally a welcome task. Today, however, I flitted from book to book and did not land. I opened my journal to write, wanting to record insights from yesterday's activities, but my pen just dangled over the page. I decided to sit in the stillness once again. 

                 May you grow still enough to hear the
                 stir of a single snowflake in the air, so that
                 your inner silence may turn into hushed
                               Br. David Steindl-Rast

I sat in the hush until it was time to make my morning phone call to my Dad. Our brief check-in time. I want to know how he is and he wants to know how I am. We are both "fine," we tell each other. 

I glanced at my desk, which is just the way I left it yesterday with the week's To Do list in prominent display. I didn't check anything off that list yesterday. I wonder about today. I need to bargain with my cold, I think. "If you let me do x and y, I will take a nap this afternoon. How does that sound?" 

And so the day began. An ordinary day, as most days are. 
Thanks be to God. 

An Invitation
What does your ordinary day look like? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Support: Tuesday's Reflection

In a few hours my writing group will gather here in our cozy living room. During our twice a month sessions, each one of us has the opportunity to read something from our current work. And to receive feedback, which is always helpful and constructive. I trust these women to be honest with me and to help me grow deeper and clearer as a writer. I value what they say, and I am grateful for their encouragement when I feel stuck or overwhelmed or unsure.   

I need their support, and I do my best to offer these wonderful women writers support, also. 

Have you noticed how support comes in various sizes and shapes?

Sometimes support feels more like a push, a shove. "Get back in the chair and write. And we'll be checking to make sure you are doing that."

Sometimes support is something tangible--an invitation to get together, a hot meal delivered to your door when you are sick, a greeting card in the mail, a check to someone in need.

Sometimes support is a hug or an arm around the shoulder. "I'm so sorry this is a tough time. I'm holding you in my heart. I am on your team."

Sometimes support comes in the form of a listening ear. 

I recently read an essay, "The Art of Listening" by Brenda Ueland in which she refers to the "creative fountain" in each of us and how both listening and being listened to rejuvenates that fountain. She says "listening is love." Isn't that what you experience when someone truly listens to you? I also think it is what I feel when I LISTEN with my whole being. 

Ueland adds these suggestions for listening well:

             Try to learn tranquility, to live in the present
             a part of the time every day. Sometimes say to
             yourself: "Now. What is happening now? This
             friend is talking. I am quiet. There is endless time.
             I hear it, every word." Then suddenly you begin
             to hear not only what people are saying, but also
             what they are trying to say, and you sense the whole
             truth about them. And you sense existence, not
             piecemeal, not this object and that, but as a translucent

I'm ready for my group to arrive this afternoon, and I know support will flow easily. We will each feel richer for all we receive from one another. 

May you know that kind of life-enhancing support, too. 

An Invitation
What kinds of support have you received or offered lately? When have you felt listened to and when have you been an attentive and receptive listener. I would love to know. 

BONUS: This past Sunday an essay I wrote was featured in the "Monk in the World" section in Christine Valter's Paintner's website Abbey of the Arts. You can read it here.


Thursday, February 1, 2018

New Friends: Thursday's Reflection

Every four to six weeks a group of new friends gather in our home
for a Sunday night potluck supper. Although the food is always good, the conversation is even better. And the connection is growing deeper.

Making new friends is not always easy, and it is even sometimes risky. When we moved to Cleveland many years ago, I was so lonely I imagined standing at a busy intersection with a sign that instead of proclaiming "Need food" or "Need a job," said "Need a friend." 

I did all the usual things: joined a book group at the library, took an aerobics class, greeted neighbors on my daily walks, and became a hospice volunteer. I initiated, which is not easy for me, and invited a new acquaintance with whom I felt some connection, to meet for supper. She readily agreed. My only expectation was for a pleasant evening with someone new, but perhaps I appeared over eager, too needy.

We met at a deli kind of place where we ordered at the counter and then settled at a table. We shared some opening banter and then she announced without any warning, "I just want you to know I don't have room in my life for more friends."

Yes, she really said that. 

Why didn't I pack up my chicken salad sandwich and chocolate chip cookie at that very moment and leave? Needless to say, we didn't become friends, but over the years I have wondered about her. Was there something in her life then that forced her to pull in the welcome mat? 

And I wonder if after all these years she has room now in her life for a new friend. 

I hasten to add that I eventually made some wonderful friends in Ohio, friends who are still an important part of my life today. The encounter with the woman with enough friends offered me a life lesson. I suppose I could have pulled up the drawbridge myself, which would have been the easy thing for this introvert to do, but I have tried not to do that. Instead, I have tried to open myself to new people, to potential friendships.

When we moved to Madison after our years in Ohio, I joined Curves and started working out most mornings. The women were pleasant, but clearly they knew and enjoyed each other's company. One morning, however, the conversation was about an elderly parent, and I asserted myself and offered some information that seemed relevant. I made the first move and in this case they welcomed me. Those women became dear friends. 

Fast forward to our move back to St Paul four years ago when we were in our mid sixties. We have reconnected with friends from the past and strengthened long time relationships, but we have also made a surprising number of new friendships, including our beloved potluck group. 

We are enriching each other's lives at this stage of life. Although we share much in common, such as membership in the same faith community, we don't have the same background or life experiences or interests. What we do each have, however, is a willingness to bring new friends into our lives. 

We bring our open hearts to the table. And the risk is worth it.

An Invitation
Are you willing to open to new friendship? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Overcoming Patriarchy: Tuesday's Reflection

I wish I had taken a photograph, but the picture in my mind will remain for a long time. One Sunday evening this month my husband and I attended an evening prayer service to commemorate Lutheran and Catholic unity at the magnificent Cathedral of Saint Paul. What made the event so memorable for me was seeing the Catholic Archbishop process up the aisle flanked by two female Lutheran bishops, Bishop Ann Svennungsen of the Minneapolis Area Synod, and Bishop Patricia Lull of the Saint Paul Area Synod. 

The teasing part of my mind imagined a conversation Bishop Bernard Hebda might have had with one of his advisors:

       "Seriously, both of the Lutheran bishops here in the Twin
       Cities are women? How is that possible?"

       "Not only is that true, but the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA
       (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) is a woman, too."

       "Well, at least the two Catholic universities in Minneapolis 
       and St Paul are headed by men, right?"

       "Not exactly. In fact, not at all. The president of St Thomas 
       University is a woman and so is the president of The 
       University of St Catherine.              

       "I guess that means I better be twice as good in this job." 

I did wonder what he was thinking as Bishop Lull stepped up into the Cathedral's pulpit to give the sermon that evening. I was so proud of her and of all the women in ministry, regardless of denomination or faith community. 

Later in the week I read the draft of a Social Statement on Women and Justice currently being considered in the ELCA. A long suffering task force has been working on this draft for almost ten years and hope it will be adopted at the 2019 Churchwide Assembly. My first thought as I started to read it was why has it taken so long to recognize the need for this document? My second thought was about its synchronicity as #ME TOO receives such wide attention. 

The draft begins with statements about our common foundation, including

        We believe that God the Holy Spirit is always at work,
        transforming and inspiring new ways of living in this 
        world toward God's promised, beloved, eternal community.

        ...we believe God's intention for humanity is abundant life
        for all.

I was especially moved and inspired by the words I have emphasized in bold: words certainly not just applicable to the Lutheran tradition or Christianity itself. 

Can you imagine anyone not wanting abundant life for all? 

Well, the same day I read the draft of this social statement I read an article in The Washington Post about a Republican candidate, Courtland Sykes, who hopes to unseat Sen. Clair McCaskill (D-MO). I invite you to read the entire article here. Here is a brief excerpt.  

        "I want to come home to a home cooked dinner at
        six every night, one that she fixes and one that I expect
        my daughters learn to fix after they become traditional
        homemakers and family wives...I don't want them to
        grow up into career obsessed banshees who {forgo}
        home life and children and the happiness of family to
        become nail-biting manophobic hell-bent feminist
        she devils."

This sounds like abundant life for Courtland Sykes, but negates women making their own choices, creating their own vision of an abundant life. 

Obviously, there are many factors that constitute an abundant life. And what is important to me, may not be important to you, but I suspect most of us can agree that not everyone has the opportunity to create that abundant life. Seeing women in leadership positions, whether in the church or any other area of life, is a sign of transformational and inspirational new ways of living, of moving towards abundant life for all. 

An Invitation
Where do you see signs of abundant life? What one thing can you do to stand in solidarity with the hope for abundant life for all? I would like to know.