Thursday, July 30, 2015

Want to Talk?: Thursday's Reflection

When was the last time you had a conversation with someone in which you felt heard? Really heard. When was the last time you were willing to share your below the surface self with someone? When was the last time you asked questions in a conversation, instead of just talking about yourself? When was the last time you were asked thoughtful, stimulating questions in a conversation? When was the last time you learned something new, something you didn't know about a friend or acquaintance during a conversation? 

When was the last time you had a real conversation, instead of communicating in a text or an email? 

Our congregation is engaging in a conversation campaign --one on one conversations in which we hope to get to know each other better, beyond the quick Sunday morning "how are you?" We are a community that interacts well in the greater community through social justice initiatives, and we are intentional about being inclusive and welcoming, but how well do we really know each other? If we were willing to speak with one another from our hearts and to share our concerns with one another, how would that change the culture of who we are and how we care for one another? 

A number of us were asked to participate in this experiment and to attend a night of training. How interesting, I thought, that we need to be trained in the art of conversation! Basically, the training was a reminder to be curious and courageous. We were each given the names of five people in the congregation to contact and to invite them for an hour or so of conversation. "I would like to get to know you better." There was no hidden agenda, no connection to the congregation's capital campaign. Just talk. 

We were encouraged to be the listener and questioner 30% of the time and to encourage our partner to talk 70% of the time, but sometimes the conversations I had were more 40-60%, since none of the people I contacted knew me, and I am a new member in the church. They seemed as eager to get to know me as I to know them. We shared the time. And each time was rich.

Each intentional encounter reminded me that wherever two or three are gathered, there God is as well. This was holy time, sacred time. In each case, we discovered something, beyond our church membership, we held in common --a part of our background or a person we each knew or something that mattered to us in a profound way. By listening with the eyes of our hearts, we found connection to each other, but, I think, in some unexpected way, we found greater understanding of ourselves as well. When we listen deeply, listen for what is not being said, as well as what is being shared, we learn about our own vulnerabilities, our own assumptions, and perhaps, the places where we judge or are stuck.

As a spiritual director, I am blessed to participate in deep conversations frequently. I have ongoing opportunities to explore the movement of God in the lives of those who choose to spend time in intimate conversation. Each time I meet with someone who willingly opens her heart, I become more aware of how Spirit is moving in my own life as well. My directees are intentional about enhancing their spiritual lives and their relationship with God, however they define God, the Sacred the Holy, and it is a privilege to share Presence with them. Spiritual direction is a wondrous opportunity and a worthy spiritual practice, but we each have opportunities to be present to each other every day. 

We each have a story. We each are creating and living our story every day of our lives. We each are more than what we appear on the surface. We each have the need to be heard, to be known. We each hunger in our own way for connection, heartfelt connection. And we each have the ability to offer that to others. That can happen if we are willing to stop and take a deep breath, look in someone's eyes and in a quiet, but clear voice, open to being present to another. 

None of us participating in this one on one initiative at our church knows what the results of this practice will be. We hope it will lead to a more caring community, but for now we are simply and without forming a new committee or board or raising money or writing a grant or voting on guidelines, inviting people to engage in conversation. Listen and learn. Ask and receive. 

An Invitation
Where are there opportunities in your life to engage in conversation beyond the basics, the obvious facts? Who in your life is waiting for a chance to share what is in their hearts, even if they aren't fully aware of that need? Are you willing to take a risk with someone you may see everyday, but don't really know? I would love to know what happens when you open your heart in this way? 

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, St Paul

If the spiritual direction process interests you, please contact me and I would be happy to explore that possibility with you. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

My Big Adventure: Tuesday's Reflection

I am about to embark on a big adventure, and I must admit I am a bit nervous. Nope, I have not signed up for skydiving or kayaking down the Mississippi. I am not doing yoga on a paddle board as our daughter did this past weekend. I am not walking across the desert--walking in our neighborhood suits me just fine, thank you very much. Nor have I decided to buy a Harley and go on a road trip.  

Those of you who know me understand I am not much of a risk taker, especially when it comes to physical feats. I so admire my friend who recently went to Mongolia and stayed in a ger, also known as a yurt, a portable round tent covered with skins, and other women I know who grab zip lines in the jungle or who live and breathe for the next challenging ski run. That is not me. 

My big adventure doesn't involve leaving home or wearing special gear or applying for Visas. Preparation and hard, everyday work have been involved, however, and will continue to be necessary, along with the ongoing presence of a guide. 

If you have been reading this blog for some time, you know that I am writing a book. This past year I have spent focused time on this project, especially this summer when I have been taking an intense online twelve week class, Your Book Starts Here, Part 2, offered through The Loft. (I took Part One last fall.) A major aspect of each week has been to submit the draft of a chapter from my book to my small group of three other memoir writers for their feedback. At first that was scary, and I felt unsure and vulnerable and sometimes I was ready to turn and run back down the mountain, but I trusted my guide, the most excellent her royal highness Mary Carroll Moore, and opened myself to all the feedback my fellow writers have suggested. I am grateful for their support and camaraderie.

This week we are embarking on the next part of this trip, one that causes me to hold my breath and wonder if I am strong enough for the challenge. Our assignment this week, along with continuing to write and also submitting a chapter to our group as we do every week, is to read our entire manuscript from beginning to end. 

I have compiled, organized, and printed every chapter, every piece of unworked free writing into one document of about 71,000 words, 235 double-spaced pages, and it is now sitting on my desk. Waiting for me to take the plunge.

Why is this so scary? Well, what if I hate it? What if I feel I have totally wasted my time? What if I regret spending the four hours or so every day this summer working on this project? And then there is the other side as well. What if I basically feel good about the direction of what I am doing? Do I then have the stamina and the courage and commitment to see this book to its fruition? Will I ever be able to find an agent and if that happens, will a publisher want it? Or should I self-publish it? EEEEK--I'm a writer not a publisher. Do I have to learn all about that, too? Well, the list of fears and what ifs can go on and on. 

How easy it is to jump ahead when all that is required of me in this moment is to grab this stack of paper and sit in a comfortable chair with a Diet Coke next to me and a pink highlighter in my hand and begin to read. 

Before reading, however, I will close my eyes, lightly, not tightly, and I will breathe, first deeply and then more evenly, as I find my own rhythm. I will rest in the quiet for a few minutes, listening for that inner voice that called me to show up and to do what I have said I have wanted to do--to write. I will listen again to that voice, the voice of Spirit who lives within me and gently supports me as I attempt to be the person I was created to be. I will listen to the difference between Spirit and my active Inner Critic, who thought it would be a good idea to stop working on this pipe dream of writing a book when I didn't get the grant I applied for this last spring. That inner critic who urged me to stop working so hard. "For what? You'll never get this book published any way and you might not even finish it. You don't have to do this?"

Julia Cameron, as quoted in Creative Authenticity, 16 Principles to Clarify and Deepen Your Artistic Vision by Ian Roberts says, 
           Creativity is really a spiritual issue, point blank! 
           Period! It takes courage. Another word for courage is
           faith--and scripturally we say "faith without works is
           dead". Creatively, it is exactly the same thing, so the 
           whole trick is to get people into action, to take creativity
           out of the realm of theory and into the realm of practice.

What that means is to show up, to take the next step, however scary and uncertain. For me, today, that means daring to read what I have written. Just that. The next part of the adventure will unfold, I am sure of that. 

Therefore, I have packed my backpack for this big adventure, and I bring the following with me for sustenance and inspiration:

           I cherish my own courage. I salute myself for the
           brave action I undertake in my life. I focus with
           clarity and appreciation on the choices I have made
           which have required courage and self-determination.
           I applaud myself for my strength and my daring. Rather
           than belittle myself for my fears, I choose to honor
           myself for the bravery with which I have often walked
           through my fears. I count back in specific ways and 
           enumerate for myself examples of my own courage:
           the new friendship I have undertaken, the steadiness I 
           have shown in a difficult job, the honesty I have 
           displayed in opening a difficult conversation. I honor
           myself for my bigheartedness in the face of challenges
           from which I could have--but did not--shrunk back. My
           courage brings blessings in my life. My courage blesses
           the lives of others. 
                                            Blessings, Prayers and Declarations
                                            for a Heartful Life, pp 74-75
                                            Julia Cameron

An Invitation
In what ways are you asked to be courageous in your life right now? Is there a Big Adventure that is calling you? Is there an Inner Critic or Naysayer who gets in your way? What words do you have for that negative, nagging voice? How is Spirit guiding you and what is the next step? I would love to know. 

The Loft Literary Center 
Mary Carroll Moore
Julia Cameron
Ian Roberts


Thursday, July 23, 2015

What Have You Been Missing? Thursday's Reflection

Don't ask me where we got the idea, but yesterday, my husband and I and two good buddies decided we needed a Donut Day. Research was done. Four (yes, four) stops were selected and an itinerary was prepared. A scoring system with four categories (taste, texture, creativity/presentation, and ambience) was designed, and off we went. 

Fun! Pure sugary fun! 

Here's what we discovered: Simple is best. We liked the ambience of two "hip" bakeries, which, of course, were the most expensive, and it was fun to be in the know about where to go in Minneapolis and St Paul. But when it comes to taste and texture, give us the non fussy, back to the basics of the donut world. Perfection is a glazed donut at Mel-O-Glaze and cinnamon sugar or powdered sugar cake donuts at The Baker's Wife. Yum!

Now here's the surprise. We have been driving by Mel-O-Glaze for years and have never stopped. We had no idea. This neighborhood bakery has been in business for decades, located in our loop of life, and we have never checked it out. To think of what we have been missing all these years! 

What have you been missing that is practically in your back yard?

We have a number of friends who travel widely and passionately, and we love hearing about their adventures. We have done our share of big trips, which we have loved, but we tend to travel just as passionately, but more narrowly. Trips that don't require a passport or weeks of making arrangements for someone to water the yard and take in the mail, or long plane trips leaving us with jet lag. Sure, there are distant places I would love to visit or revisit, but wow, I had never been to Mel-O-Glaze before, and it is only minutes away.  

Perhaps it is because we have lived in a number of places in our adult life and my childhood years included several moves, but Bruce and I have always been tourists in our own back yard. We love nothing better than roaming, sometimes with a specific destination, but sometimes just heading out with the platte book at hand and seeing what we see. Museums and interesting little shops, and scenic overlooks, and cornfields, and small town cafes and views into how people live and work. Now that we have moved back to St Paul, we are enjoying getting to know it all over again, including places we missed the first time around. 

What have you been missing that is practically in your back yard?

Yesterday provided several lessons. First, I learned three donuts in the course of a morning is more than enough, but beyond that, is the lesson of simple fun. What could be better than being with loved ones, laughing and telling stories and yes, deepening our friendship over coffee (or in my case, Diet coke) and donuts? 

This summer has been full of those kinds of adventures, including most recently, going with a friend to the Paine Museum in Oshkosh, WI to see the exhibit of costumes from Downton Abbey and meeting other friends in Winona, MN to see the production of Much Ado About Nothing at The Great River Shakespeare Festival. We have had a few days in Door County and I spent a couple days in the Iowa City area, meeting friends from Madison. All wonderful times. 

Even closer to home we have gone to band concerts in the park and art fairs and saw a heart-filled production of The Music Man at The Guthrie. We go for drives and stop for ice cream cones and explore neighborhoods we have not been in before. And there is so much more to do. Right here in our back yard.  

Yesterday was a reminder that there is always more to explore wherever we find ourselves. Wake-up and take joy in life right here, right now. 

Even as we were finishing our last donut, we were planning our next adventure--soda fountains. We know of two close by and one we have never been to, which makes no sense, because once again it is in our loop of life! And what about wine bars for our sophisticated natures, but probably only one of those at a time. There is so much to explore. Stay tuned!

What have you been missing that is practically in your back yard?

An Invitation
What have you passed by or read or heard about or wondered about, but have not stopped to check it out? Do it. Be a tourist in your backyard. What did you discover? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Monday Tasks: Tuesday's Reflection

I once had a set of vintage kitchen towels embroidered with the designated task for each day of the week. If I recall, Monday was wash day and Tuesday ironing day etc. They were colorful and fun, but totally not an accurate account of how my week flows. 

My mother always cleaned the house within an inch of its life on Thursdays and frankly, coming home from school that afternoon was not a welcoming experience. We kids were reminded that she had just cleaned, so "don't mess up anything." I get that, for when I clean, it is nice to have everything pristine for at least a few hours. Mom cleaned on Thursday and bought groceries and got her hair done on Friday. More than likely she did laundry on Monday, and I think she cleaned bathrooms everyday. 

In this regard I am not my mother's daughter, and I don't have much of a schedule. I am more apt to wash clothes when the laundry basket is getting full, and perhaps Bruce has already started a load, anyway. I clean when the house needs to be cleaned or when I have the time or inclination or when company is coming. 

Or in the case of yesterday because I needed a break from writing, and I needed to clear the space before tackling this week's writing tasks. 

Sunday had been a frustrating day at my desk. I was a bit behind writing the chapter to submit on Monday for my online writing class, but I finally had found the rhythm and was pleased with how it was coming along. Just as I was about to hit the print button, all six pages disappeared. Yup, that's right. Gone and not to be recovered, no matter what I did.

I had not followed my own guidelines about backing everything up and saving and printing drafts. Perhaps I should have those rules embroidered on hand towels and hang them in view of my desk. Please--no chastising or advice. I messed up in more than one way, and I am grateful I only lost that one chapter. Lesson learned.

I spent most of the rest of the day recreating the material, and I was able to meet the class schedule, but would you believe when I started printing my copies, I ran out of ink AND the printer jammed. I always have extra ink cartridges, and I was able to unjam the printer fairly easily. Never mind my ink stained hands. It was just one of those days! 

Given the lost time, I didn't do anything else I planned to do on Sunday. My desk was overflowing with tasks I had put off all week, and it would have been nice to read the Sunday papers on Sunday and…and…and.

That brings me to Monday, a day open and unscheduled till time to go to a writing class at The Loft Literary Center in the evening. Just what I needed. I decided to do my version of laundry first--clear my desk and my email inbox. I filed and organized and answered necessary emails and deleted many more and did some online ordering and even allowed myself some fun planning for an upcoming field trip this week with friends. Stay tuned for that report. 

At last I thought I was ready to return to my desk and put on my writer's hat and begin work on this week's assignment. This week I will begin working on a big new section of my book, and that feels a bit daunting to me. More than a bit. I know I will need lots of concentration as I move through a muddle of trial and error. Was I ready? Not quite.

I don't know that anyone else would notice, but my garret office felt a bit stale, just a bit grubby and grimy to me. I needed to dust and vacuum. And so I did. 

Sometimes that kind of clearing the space is just what is needed to move on or to settle into the situation at hand. Clearing the space can reveal what we really think and feel and what we need in this exact moment or what the next steps in our forward movement need to be. And none of it feels possible before we clear the space. Intentionally and deliberately. 

I suppose sometimes clearing the space --or doing other than what you said you were going to do or are supposed to do--can be viewed as a distraction or procrastination. But often clearing the space, the physical, emotional, or spiritual space is just what is needed, and the Universe responds with a sigh of relief. "Good for you. You listened to what you need, and now you are poised for the next step."

Sometimes clearing the space means taking a walk or a nap or reading a book for pure escape and pleasure. Sometimes clearing the space means having a good cry or raging about a current loss or  dilemma in your life. Sometimes we need to simply declare defeat and call it quits. Sometimes we need to enlist the help of others, professionals or a close friend. Sometimes we need to sit in quiet meditation or prayer and surrender to the present moment. 

Yesterday I just needed to dust and vacuum to clear my space. 

An Invitation
What do you do to clear your space? How do you know when clearing the space is what is needed? I would love to know. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Tastes of Summer: Thursday's Reflection

The other night I fixed one of our favorite tastes of summer: basil pesto on spaghetti. So, so good.

Did you know that in Italy basil has been and still is a sign of love? According to tradition, when a woman puts a pot of basil on the balcony outside her room, it means she is ready to receive her suitor. 

I wonder what it means that Bruce has created a glorious herb garden for me right out the back door. All in pots this year, which he has artfully arranged. Along with the basil, there's the old crowd: oregano, mint, rosemary, lavender, parsley and others. Oh, and scented geraniums and tomatoes, too. I love walking out the back door and seeing the abundance just waiting transformation into something tasty. As I pass, I trace the tops of the plants with my hands, filling the air with a bouquet of fresh smells. 

I think about other herb gardens I have had, beginning with the one  surrounded by a white picket fence in our backyard in our longtime home in St Paul. That garden was inspired by a visit to the Plymouth historical site in Massachusetts where I asked the woman tending an herb garden about her favorite ways to use herbs in food. She was quite surprised by my question, saying herbs are used for medicinal purposes and not cooking. Of course. I had forgotten for the moment that I was speaking with a woman who had made the long voyage to the New World on the Mayflower!

Nonetheless, that started my interest in herbs. My herb garden,  uses of herbs, and my collection of books about herbs expanded each year we lived at Sweetwater Farm. During our years in Madison, however, where we had virtually no yard my herb growing was more limited. I am thrilled to have herbs back in my life. 

Summer's Paradox
One of the paradoxes of summer, it seems to me, is a loosening of our days, a desire to relax and be a bit lazy even, but it is also a time of great productivity. And abundance. Just walk through your neighborhood and notice the colorful and robust growth all around you. There seems to be a surge of energy in all things green and lush. 

This summer I feel that pull towards productivity; an urge to be fruitful, to grow my garden. I sense becoming more of whom I was created to be. I spend several hours each day writing, working on my book and even though I have months and months ahead of me before I will have a completed first draft, I am not discouraged. (Most days!) I am gardening my memories and experiences, the lessons acquired along the way. I am tending to my spiritual growth as I weed my writing. 

I do try to remember that productivity needs to be balanced with leisure and play. 
          Maybe what we all need most is time to process
          what we already know so that we can put it together
          differently, even more effectively than before. Maybe
          we need to think a bit, out on a porch in a summer
          breeze, down by the creek when the trout are
          running, back in the garden when it's time to put 
          the beets  and beans in again.
                                  Between the Dark and the Daylight
                                  Embracing the Contradictions of Life
                                  Joan Chittister, p. 74

My herb garden is a good reminder--to slow down and smell the ---BASIL! 

An Invitation
What is your response to the paradox of summer--the mix of rest and laziness and productivity. I would love to know. 

Nancy's Pesto Recipe

2 cups fresh basil leaves, washed and dried. I like to use a mix of different varieties of basil.
6 garlic cloves
1 cup shelled pecans or walnuts
1/2 cup good olive oil mixed with 1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup grated or shaved Parmesan cheese (I like the shaved better, because I like my pesto a little chunkier.)
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
Kosher salt and pepper

Combine the basil, garlic, and nuts in the bowl of a food processor.  Chop coarsely. With the motor still running, add the combined oils in a slow, steady stream. Shut the motor off and add the cheeses and salt and pepper to taste. Process briefly to combine. Scrape the pesto into a bowl and cover until ready to use.

To freeze, scrape pesto into a large freezer bag, press out the air and seal. Store flat in the freezer.

Makes about 2 cups. Enjoy! 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Summer Prayer by Joyce Rupp: Tuesday's Post

What a wonderful summer we are having, and I hope that is the case for you, too. Are you a summer person who looks forward to this time of year most of the rest of the year? I have always declared myself to be a winter person, but this year I am enjoying each day, even the wildly humid ones, more than in the past. Perhaps that has to do with my age and the desire to savor each day, no matter what.

All of a sudden it will be August and then September and on it goes, so this week, mid-July already, seems like a good time to take a deep breath, a pause, and to be present to this summer. 

How would you describe this summer of your life? Are you doing what you intended to do? What's on your summer list? Where is this summer leading you?

One of my seasonal spiritual guides is The Circle of Life, The Heart's Journey Through the Seasons by Joyce Rupp and Macrina Wiederkehr. Each season I turn to this book for a way to encounter the days in a deeper way, a way that aligns my inner spirit with the outward changes I see as I walk and move in the world. 

In that spirit I offer "A Summer Prayer." (pp 119-120) I invite you to read through this prayer, perhaps more than once. What lines resonate with you the most? What is the state of your summer soul? Where is there ease and absence of winter worries? Where is there growth and transformation, much to your surprise? How is summer inviting you to rest and to heal? Where are you headed this summer and how will you know when you are there?

Let us begin.

                       A Summer Prayer

May you breathe in the beauty of summer with its power of transformation.
May this beauty permeate all that feels un-beautiful in you. 

          May the God of summer give us beauty. 

May you seek and find spaces of repose during these summer months.
May these moments refresh and restore the tired places within you.

          May the God of summer give us rest.

May you be open to times of celebration and recreation that are so much a part of summer.
May you find happiness in these times of play and leisure.

          May the God of summer give us joy.

May your eyes see the wonders of summer's colors.
May these colors delight you and entice you into contemplation and joy.

          May the God of summer give us inner light.

May you feel energy of summer rains penetrating thirsty gardens, golf courses, lawns and farmlands.
May these rains remind you that your inner thirst needs quenching. 
May your inner self be refreshed, restored, and renewed.
         May the God of summer give us what we need for healing.

May you savor fresh produce that comes to your table and enjoy the fruits of summer's bounty.

          May the God of summer give us a sense of satisfaction in the works of our hands.

May you find shelter when the stormy skies of summer threaten your safety.

          May the God of summer give us shelter when inner storms threaten our peace of mind and heart.

May you enjoy the unexpected and find surprises of beauty and happiness as you travel the roads on summer vacation.

          May the God of summer lead us to amazing discoveries as we travel the inner roads of our soul as well. 

An Invitation
How did this prayer speak to you? I would love to know. 

Joyce Rupp
Macrina Weiderkehr 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Pause That Refreshes: Thursday's Reflection

Every morning as I climb the stairs to my garret for my meditation time, I pause and look out the windows towards the back yard. My first pause of the day. Thanks to the Head Gardener at our house, the view is one of evolving beauty and joy, and in this brief pause I offer thanks for the gift of another day and for the privilege I have of sharing my life with someone who shares his gifts so abundantly. 

I sit in my comfortable chair and read a chapter in my current devotional book, pausing periodically to reread words that resonate or words that puzzle me or words that just bear repeating. "Generating joy, we enter and offer joy. Generating peace, we enter and offer peace. Generating stillness, we enter and offer equanimity." The Grace in Aging, Awaken As You Grow Older, Kathleen Dowling Singh

I meditate, intentional pausing, taking deep breaths, finding my own rhythm. I note where my thoughts land, and I attempt to ease them from the space at least for the moment. I sit quietly a few minutes longer, lifting names or concerns or gratitudes in prayer. I open my eyes and take a deep breath, feeling a bit more prepared for the day. 

I move to my desk to check my email, and today Isee the name of a dear friend from another time of my life. We don't communicate often, but there is a heart connection. I pause and hold loving thoughts of her. Soon I will create a pause in the day in which to write to her. 

It is tempting to stay at my desk and begin the day's writing, but instead, I head outside for my morning walk. I know the main purpose of my walk is exercise, but it seems I find many reasons to pause --sometimes in praise of someone's gardening talents or just to appreciate an interesting looking home. Sometimes I pause to send a blessing, if a home looks neglected or if I hear sounds of children in their early morning exuberance. 

One house I pass frequently seems to my judging eyes in need of care, but I often hear through the open windows the sound of someone playing a guitar and singing softly. I pause to check my need to fill in the blanks, to understand and make sense of why this house looks so shabby and uncared for and yet, there is music being made there. All that is asked of me in this present moment is to whisper, "May all be well." 

I continue through my day, writing the next post for this blog, working on a chapter for my book, answering emails, giving feedback to the members of my small group in the online writing class I am taking, perhaps doing some laundry, making a trip to the grocery store, checking in with my Dad, having casual conversations with Bruce as he goes through his own agenda for the day, fixing dinner, and so it goes. I respond to what the day brings, and if I am mindful, I pause now and then. 

In those brief, barely noticeable moments of pause, I become more present. I clear the space. I open my heart. Singh refers to "sublime abiding." I love that term. In the pause I hold everything a bit lighter. 

Last evening after dinner I took a book and went to our sanctuary side garden we call Cotswold. I had thought about returning to my desk in the garret to write, for I had not completed my self-assigned writing assignment, but instead I had paused at the bottom of the stairs. I listened, just listened, and I think I heard the hydrangeas growing at the base of our front steps. I think I heard the sweet statue of the little girl adjust her position just a bit. I heard the moment call to me, "Come sit and be." 

And that's what I did. 

An Invitation
When do you pause? What happens when you do? I would love to know.  

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Storytelling: Tuesday's Reflection

"It was a quiet week in Lake Wobegon." If you are a fan of Garrison Keillor and Prairie Home Companion, you are familiar with those words. Those words are a signal to sit down and get comfortable, for you are about to hear a story. Maybe it has a point, but maybe not or at least not one that is readily apparent. It really doesn't make a difference, for the important thing is that someone, in this case a master storyteller, is about to tell you a story. 

Saturday, July 4th, my husband and I went to the outdoor performance of Prairie Home Companion on the grounds of Macalester College. We brought our lawn chairs and joined the crowd, many wearing red, white, and blue. The spaces on the grounds filled as the evening's performers treated us to pre-show bonus numbers. Right before the start of the show Garrison led us in patriotic songs, ending, as we all stood, with the singing of The Star Spangled Banner. 

It felt good to be there. A good way to celebrate the birthday of our nation. We reminisced about many other times we have been to the show, especially in the early years when you could call for tickets at the last minute or just show up. And tickets were free. I have such good memories of fixing breakfast and listening to Garrison and his sidekicks on Minnesota Public Radio every morning or being in the car on a Saturday evening and not wanting to arrive at our destination till the show ended. Prairie Home Companion is part of our Minnesota tradition, one we have been proud to share with the rest of the country. 

The July 4th show included the Macalester College Pipe Band and Jearlyn and Jervetta Steele singing Aretha Franklin, and a Scandinavian style-string band, and banjo playing, and firecrackers from sound effects man Tim Russell. We chuckled through a Lives of the Cowboys skit and of course, the weekly conversation between an overbearing mother desperate for grandchildren and her grown bachelor and not very successful son. As the show progressed pleasantly, many in the audience stood up to take pictures or stretch or to walk the fussy toddler or to get another beer or a brat. There was a feeling of summer ease and the informality of a giant picnic or family reunion. 

And then Garrison said the magic words, "It was a quiet week in Lake Wobegon," and that all changed. All conversations stopped. No one stirred or headed to one of the food trucks or beer stands. Instead, we became children who had asked our parent or grandparent, "Tell me a story." We hushed ourselves and recalled the feeling of grabbing our blankies, putting our thumbs in our mouths and leaning into one who treasured us. 

Who doesn't love being told a story? Christina Baldwin in her book Storycatcher, Making Sense of Our Lives Through the Power and Practice of Story says, "We require story in order to link our lives with each other. Story couples our experiences, mind to mind and heart to heart. Story is the electromagnetic conductor that brings us close enough together to make the leap of association and identification, to see that another person is a variation of ourselves."  

Garirison shared a 4th of July story about a family picnic and a clandestine attempt to set off a rocket. Of course, it didn't go quite as planned. The mother in the story had suggested sparklers as a good alternative to illegal firecrackers, but what fun would that have been? This story told in front of thousands of people made me think about lighting sparklers at our family cabin and even earlier, going to an aunt and uncle's farm one 4th of July when I was a little girl and attending a small town fireworks display. In my memory it remains one of the best. In my mind I watch the fireworks at one of the Minneapolis lakes when our son Geof was still in the sitting on my lap stage, and every boom made him shake. I covered him with a blanket and held him close and we got through it. One memory after another flooded my head and my heart. 

Story telling is about making a connection. We are invited into someone else's version of truth and are given an opportunity to discover or re-discover our own stories, our own experiences. Every time we share one of the old family stories, "Remember when…..?" or "That reminds me of the time when…." we connect past and present and strengthen our steps into the future. When a new member enters a family or an acquaintance transitions into a friend, stories need to be shared. This is who we are, where we came from, and whom we have become. We need stories. We need to tell them and listen to them, even if we have heard them over and over. 

My husband's mother died right before we were married and his father chose to separate from us. We were not often with his siblings. Bruce has been forced to listen to the repetition of my family stories more times than are acceptable and more importantly, has not had the same opportunities to remember and share his own family stories. One summer, however, his siblings  gathered at our home in Madison and over wine and beer while relaxing on the front porch, stories were told. "I didn't remember that," one would say or another would tell the same story, but remembering it in a totally different way. They finally had their chance, and it was good. Very good. 

As we age, our stories may become even more important to us as a way to trace the pilgrimage we have been on. We can tell ourselves the stories that most matter to us. 
          You may in the privacy of the heart take out the albums
          of your own life and search them for the people and places   
          you have loved and learned from…and for those moments
          in the past--many of them half-forgotten--through which
          you glimpsed, however dimly and fleetingly, the sacredness
          of your own journey.
                                               Frederick Buechner

We listened, as we do many Saturday nights to Garrison's story. We may not have had a Lake Wobegon life, but still we imagine ourselves in his stories and we reach deeper into the stories of our own lives. That's the power of story. 

An Invitation
If your summer includes time with family and friends, make space for storytelling and honor the stories that follow the generations. What did you learn you didn't know before? And what stories are most important for you to tell? I would love to know. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Troll Under the Bridge: Thursday's Reflection

Do you remember the folktale "The Three Billy Goats Gruff"? I remember how much I loved hearing my father or mother read that story to me when I was a child. I imagine what most intrigued me was hearing my parents change their voices for each of the parts.

The sound of the bridge as it was crossed by each of the goats, "Trip, trap, trip, trap." The response of the big ugly troll with his big eyes and his long nose, "Who's that tripping over my bridge?" And each of the goats. The smallest goat's teeny voice, "Oh, it's only I." The middle-sized goat in a middle-sized voice, "Oh, no, don't take me." And finally the largest, full-grown goat in his deep, scary voice, "It's the Big Billy Goat Gruff." 

Of course, the ugly troll under the bridge is tricked by the goats and never gets to enjoy a goat meat dinner. 

Well, I've been wrestling a bit with the troll under the bridge the last few days, and for the moment I have won, but the troll still lives, although scarred and wounded, under the bridge. 

The troll under the bridge represents my inner critic. 

As you may recall, I am taking an intensive online writing class this summer. This class gives me structure for working on a book project, and I am making progress, but sometimes the troll emerges and shouts, "Who do you think you are? You may think you can write a book, but have you ever done it before? And even if you do it, will anyone even want to read it? Why don't you just stay on the other side of the bridge and graze in the pasture there? It's summer after all and the sun is shining. Take it easy. What difference will it make after all if you write your stupid book anyhow?"

My troll under the bridge is a talkative troll.

Two things happened recently to encourage the troll. First of all, I had applied this spring for a grant and received notice that I was not selected as a semifinalist. Now I knew it was a long shot, and I don't regret stretching myself. I learned a lot in the process and writing the proposal deepened my commitment to my project, but, true confession, of course, I was disappointed. The reinforcement for my project and let's face it, the money to support the process would have been welcome. On the surface I seemed to shrug my shoulders and say, "Oh well. You are on the bridge. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other--and keep writing one paragraph after another."

But the troll, who never misses a change to undermine, also got the email and at first seemed to empathize with me, but then…"Poor Nancy, why work so hard? You tried your best. There are so many other ways to use your time. You have other gifts. No one will know that you decided to set the book aside. After all you did it before and that was no big deal."

I didn't have much of a chance to think about what the troll said before Bruce and I left for a few days of vacation. We drove to one of our favorite places, Door County in Wisconsin. We have been there many times over the years, beginning when our children were young, and it has come to symbolize a place of utter ease for each of us. This time was no exception. We had both been working    hard, and we needed the time-out. 

Door County worked its magic. We loved the days of roaming, visiting long-time friends, eating at favorite spots, taking the ferry to Washington Island, exploring a new lavender farm on the island, and allowing ourselves time to read and sleep late and relax. Fully. Utterly. Although I did do some writing, not much, to be honest, by the time we returned home I had gotten used to the slower pace. And that happened after just four days of being gone.

Once again the troll was ready for me. "Wow, Nancy, you really seem relaxed. Good for you. And what a great pile of books you bought at the bookstore on Washington Island! I know how eager you are to read them. Summer comes just once a year, so feel free to take a book and a glass of lemonade to the garden and read all afternoon. Today and tomorrow and any day." 

I could feel myself take a few steps back to the meadow side of the bridge, but I didn't quite turn around. Just in time a message arrived from the facilitator of the writing class offering encouragement and even mentioning how at this stage of the class, the inner critic is louder than usual. Had she met my troll?

I decided I needed to have a little chat with my troll. First, I meditated a bit longer than my usual 20 minutes. I continued to sit quietly waiting for the voice of my inner wisdom to appear, hoping   that voice could be heard over the din of the troll. Would I know the difference between the two voices? 

Here's what I heard. "Nancy, what is your heart's desire? What is the call of this time in your life? How will you live the gifts you have been given? Only you can answer those questions and only you will know when your answer encourages the person you were created to be." 

I could feel the troll shrivel just a bit. 

I don't know if I will actually be able to bring this book into reality. I hope so, but while that is important to me, it is not the only thing. The important thing is to walk with integrity, to be attentive to the deep inner voice, to pay attention when that inner voice matches the voice of God calling me to be more than I thought I could be. 

Take that, Troll! 

I have returned to my garret and have been writing. I am keeping up with the class assignments and responsibilities. I am writing a new chapter for my book. I have read the feedback from my classmates about my most recent submission to the class, and they offered helpful suggestions, and no one suggested I drop out of the class. I am continuing to cross the bridge. However, I am crossing it a bit slower. I am learning that when I pace myself, when I take time for meditation as well as leisure and allow myself fun and spontaneity in my life, I am stronger and more resilient when the troll tries to knock me off the bridge. 

An Invitation
Do you have a troll in your life? Perhaps he is an inner critic or perhaps he is another kind of obstacle, fear or anger or procrastination or anything preventing you from being your best you. How do you respond to your troll? I would love to know.