Thursday, December 29, 2016

Favorite Fiction of 2016: Thursday's Reflection

Even as I reflect on my favorites of 2016, a pile for 2017 is growing. I am currently reading for our January book group discussion, Believer, My Forty Years in Politics by David Axelrod, and I am surprised by how much I am enjoying it. Not only is it well-written and satisfyingly readable, it reminds me of other times of turmoil in this country, times I remember well. And we not only survived, but good things, good people flourished. Reading this restores some hope.

I am eager to read some new fiction, too, however. In my pile is The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and The Nix by Nathan Hill. 

But before I get ahead of myself, here are my fiction favorites for 2016--another splendid year of reading. 

Top Favorites
1. Our Souls at Night, Kent Haruf. While this book can almost be read in one sitting, the theme and characters will remain with you for a long time. This is Haruf's last book, for he died soon after finishing it, and what a lovely legacy it is. Don't miss his earlier books, Plainsong, Eventide, Benediction, and others.
2. Commonwealth, Ann Patchett. Yes, I know there are lots of characters, and it may be hard to keep them straight, but get over it. And yes, I know Bel Canto is one of your favorite books of all time (mine, too), and nothing else is quite as good, but take a deep breath and dive into this all too real story of merged families and the toll it takes on the children. Some laugh out loud moments, too. Wonderful, just wonderful.
3. These Granite Islands, Sarah Stonich. A couple years ago I read her book Vacationland, a book of related short stories, and loved it, as did the rest of our book group. I also really enjoyed her memoir, Shelter. I am not sure why it has taken me so long to read her first novel, These Granite Islands, but it was just what I needed on these cold winter nights. Set in northern Minnesota for the most part, it is a story of marriage and friendship, and a strong woman, and old age, and memory. Wonderful descriptions along with deep character development. I have not yet read her novel, The Ice Chorus, and I think that needs to be on my 2017 list. Please, Sarah, I hope you have something new in the works. 

The Rest of My Favorite Novels of 2017--in no particular order.
1. Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse, Faith Sullivan (author of the wonderful The Cape Ann)
2. The Book of Strange New Things, Michel Faber (a surprise selection for me--give it a try.)
3. Abide with Me, Elizabeth Strout 
4. My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout. (I must admit I like the earlier title, Abide with Me, more than this most recent title.)
5. A Banquet of Consequence, Elizabeth George
6. The Marriage of Opposites, Alice Hoffman (I am behind in my Hoffman reading--haven't read her newest one, Faithful, yet.)
7. The Dust That Falls From Dreams, Louis de Bernieres
8. Journey to Munich, Jacqueline Winspear (latest in the Maisie Dobbs series)
9. A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Backman ( a book most everyone loves)
10. LaRose, Louise Erdrich (almost one of my Top Favorites)
11. Two by William Boyd, Restless and Any Human Heart
12. The Orchardist, Amanda Coplin (another one almost on the Top Favorites list)
13. Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks (Avoided it because it was about the plague, but thought it was excellent. Liked it better than her newest, The Secret Chord)
14. The Excellent Lombards, Jane Hamilton
15. The Cork O'Connor mysteries by William Kent Krueger. I am late to reading these. I read the first four this year and am so pleased there are many more ahead of me.)
16. A Great Reckoning, Louise Penny (Of course!!!! Love, love the Chief Inspector Gamache mystery series set in wondrous Three Pines)
17. The Mothers, Brit Bennett

Overrated or Disappointing (In my opinion)
1. The Nest, Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
2. Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld 
3. My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante. Now I know there is an ongoing love fest about this book, but I just don't get it, and I won't be reading the next two books in the trilogy. 

An Invitation
What are your Top Favorites of the year? I would love to know.

Note: If you missed my post about my favorite nonfiction books of 2016, go  here.



A Collection of Christmas Books


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Favorite Nonfiction Books of 2016: Tuesday's Reflection

Bookcase in Sunny Snug Decorated for Christmas
I love this time of year--the time of "Favorite Books" lists! 

Of course, it is fun to see if any of the books on a specific list are ones I would also rate as "favorites," but I also hope a list will lead me to an author or title unfamiliar or overlooked by me. Often someone else's list means I have a much longer "What I Want to Read in the Coming Year" list. 

This year my "favorites" list is divided into two posts. Today's post features nonfiction titles, and my post on Thursday, December 29 will list fiction titles. Note: While many year end lists highlight books published only in the past year, the books on my list have no such limitation.  

Here goes:

Category #1: Writing Books
Instead of reading books about writing this year, I actually wrote much more myself. Still here are three titles I recommend.
1.The Great Spring, Writing, Zen and This Zigzag Life, Natalie Goldberg. 
2. Why We Write About Ourselves, Twenty Memoirists on Why The Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature, edited by Meredith Moran. 
3. Writing Alone and With Others, Pat Schneider. 

Category #2: Spirituality Books
My top two favorites in this category are:
 * The Artist's Rule, Nurturing Your Creative Soul With Monastic Wisdom, Christine Valters Paintner. This book actually is located with my writing books--a good crossover book that feeds my writing soul, and one I will consult again at the beginning of this year.
Word by Word, A Daily Spiritual Practice, Marilyn McEntyre
Others:
1. The Other Side of Chaos, Breaking Through When Life is Breaking Down, Margaret Self
2. Sanctuary, The Discovery of Wonder, Julie Leibrich
3. Desperately Seeking Spirituality, Meredith Gould
4. In God's Holy Light, Wisdom from the Desert Monastics, Joan Chittister
5. Accidental Saints, Finding God in All the Wrong People, Nadia Bolz-Weber
6. Gratitude, Oliver Sacks
7. When God Is Silent, Barbara Brown Taylor
8. Circle of Grace, A Book of Blessings for the Season, Jan Richardson
9. Becoming Wise, An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, Krista Tippett

Category #3: Other
My favorite in this category was the biography, Elizabeth the Queen, The Life of a Monarch, Sally Bedell Smith. I read this after watching the Netflix series, "The Crown". Loved both.
1. The Only Street in Paris, Life on the Rue des Martyrs, Elaine Scolino
2. The Latehomecomer, A Hmong Family Memoir, Kai Kalia Yang
3. Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, Susan Cain
4. Rez Life, David Treuer
5. Essays After Eighty, Donald Hall
6. Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race, Debby Irving
7. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of Family and Culture in Crisis, J. D. Vance


An Invitation


What nonfiction books have you read this year that you recommend? I would love to know. 


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Advent Mandalas: Thursday's Reflection

Yes, I know this is a very busy time of year, but I knew as I approached Advent that this also needed to be a time of stillness, of resting in the heart of God. A time to listen to the beating of my hurt and restless heart and to connect once again with the energy of hope. 

I asked myself, "What will be my Advent practice this year? What will help me move out of the busyness to the beauty and the meaning of this time of preparation and waiting?"

After hearing a wonderful presentation by the author/artist Ann Gerondelis, in which she shared meditations and art from her book Open Our Eyes, Daily Prayers for Advent, I decided to create a mandala every day during Advent. 
"Angels Hov'ring Round"
(Cut and Paste from National Lutheran Choir program)

I am not an artist and feel art-challenged. I may feel art in my fingers and see it in my mind, but the jump from colored pencils to paper is a very big leap indeed. And yet, over the years I occasionally have drawn mandalas, finding the practice soothing and enlightening. 


Quite simply a mandala, which is Sanskrit for "sacred circle" is a symbol of wholeness, of healing, of eternity, of unity. Mandalas can be found in many cultures. The Medicine Wheel of Native American spirituality, for example, or in Christianity in the form of stained-glass window designs and labyrinths, where they may be used for teaching, contemplation or symbolic pilgrimages. In nature mandalas are easily found--snowflakes, flowers, ripples on a pond. 

So did I fulfill my Mandala A Day Intention?
Not really. The one a day evolved into a Mandala Every Few Days. By the beginning of the last week of Advent I had drawn a dozen mandalas. 

Each one was a prayer.

Sometimes a mandala took me more than one sitting. Sometimes I could feel a mandala taking form in my head before I sat at my desk with my materials. Sometimes I didn't have any idea what would happen after I drew the circle and was amazed at what appeared. Some times I knew exactly what my mandala prayer was and other times the meaning revealed itself gradually to me. Sometimes drawing a new mandala was quite simply time-out. A time to breathe. 

I read someplace that the mandala seems to reflect a person's longing for wholeness and unity with the universe and God. That may be true, but what I know is that when I open the sketchbook to a new page, and I spread a wide array of colored pencils in front of me, and I whisper a brief prayer, asking God to be with me in my play, in my search, in this process. I open myself to Spirit.

Come, draw a circle and move into the center of your whole being.

An Invitation
What has been your practice this past month? I would love to know. 




Resource
Ann Gerondelis


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Last Week of Advent: Tuesday's Reflection

Well, here we are--the last week of Advent. How did we get here so soon? 

This question reminds me of something my 93 year old father says frequently, "I didn't think I would get old so fast." 

And yet, here we are, ready or not. 

In an email earlier in Advent a friend mentioned how she now only decorates the main floor of her condo and not the basement family room area. She added, "I don't want to become one of those people who doesn't decorate at all" because "it's too much work." 

I happen to love decorating and most everything else that is part of this season. Yes, it is a lot of work, but does that work bring you joy? Does that work add sparkle and light to your life? Is it more than work? True, I don't have to go off to a job everyday and squeeze in Christmas preparations along the way. I remember those days, and they were exhausting.

However, even though my life is more spacious now, I have less energy than I did when we were raising our family, but perhaps I now ask wiser questions that lead to more thoughtful answers. 
         What is it that truly gives me joy at this time of my life? 
          In what ways can I bring joy? 
          Is my heart open in this holy season? 
         Where do I find hope and how can I create hope? 

Perhaps it is time to think about what you most want to do, rather than what you don't want to do. If something feels like too much work, what playful act will replace it? I don't mean to suggest that just because something is "work," doing it isn't worthwhile or important and meaningful or just plain necessary, like doing the laundry. What I am instead suggesting is that this is the perfect season, the perfect time of our lives, to be conscious about the choices in front of us. 

One more thought: My great-grandmother, whom we called Aunt Annie, after doing something requiring effort, time and just plain hard work, often said she felt a "good tired." 

My prayer for you is that if you are tired these last days of Advent, may it be a "good tired."

An Invitation
What new choices have you been making recently? I would love to know. 



Thursday, December 15, 2016

Christmas Cards: Thursday's Reflection

What Christmas tasks do you enjoy and which ones bring out your
inner Scrooge? Have those likes and dislikes changed over the years? Are there ones you delay doing or have even decided not to do at all?

What I have heard over the years from a number of people is how they don't enjoy all that is involved with sending Christmas cards, but then in the next breath they encourage me not to stop sending our annual letter and card! 

I actually enjoy finding the "right" card, writing our letter and choosing a picture or two to include. This year's card pictures a red front door, similar to our own door.  When Geof and Kate were young, I tried to find cards with two small children, a boy and a girl, and during our years at Sweetwater Farm the card usually featured a country scene. I don't know if anyone every noticed my themes, but I enjoyed the hunt. 

Writing our letter sometimes is challenging, as it was this year. The issue was not that it has been a personally difficult year for us. Our children and grandchildren continue to grow and thrive, and Bruce and I are content and busy in our third chapter lives. Instead, I pondered how much to say about the concerns we have for our country. Oh well, I did the best I could and then let it go. 

Addressing the cards is almost a contemplative activity, during which I think about each person on our list. If we have not been in touch since the previous Christmas I wonder about the joys and sorrows of their past year, and if the card is going to someone in our more immediate circle, I think about our ongoing connection and the pleasure that brings. 

Finally, I sign the card, "Light Blessings, Nancy and Bruce," tuck it in the envelope and seal it with a lick and a light prayer. Today our stacks of cards went into the mail--done till next year. Traveling Mercies.

A Prayer
I wrote this prayer for our church's Advent prayer booklet.
          I love seeing our mailbox full of annual Christmas
          letters and cards. May I find delight in the travel
          adventures of dear friends and the achievements of
          their children and grandchildren, and may I open
          my heart to all those who have experienced loss
          and pain. Amen.

An Invitation
What Christmas tasks do you most enjoy? And which ones do you wish you could delegate? I would love to know. 




Tuesday, December 13, 2016

First Snow: Tuesday's Reflection

We have been ready since Thanksgiving, and finally, here it is. The First Snow. Yes, there have been snowflakes here and there, now and then, but this is the real deal.

And it is gorgeous. One of those light, fairy wonderland kind of snows where you can almost see each snowflake, individual and all its own. The kind of snow that creates new shapes, an undiscovered landscape, and transforms the neighborhood. Instead of looking dull and bare, now each house looks charming and inviting and surely only interesting people live here. 

I admit I am a winter junky. You know this about me, if you have read my posts in past winters, but I also admit I can afford to feel this way. I don't have to drive in rush hour. In fact, if I don't want to go someplace, I don't have to. I don't have to leave my car on the street and move it on Snow Emergency days. Beyond that, I have a toasty warm house where I can observe the outside beauty from the inside. Yes, I am fortunate indeed, and it is important to add in some way those who are in need to my Christmas list.

In part I love the first snow of each year because it suggests other firsts--first loves, and first jobs, and first grade, and first airplane rides, and the first time driving a car after getting my license, and the first grandchild (and the second one, too!), and the first time I saw the ocean, and the first time something I wrote was published. 

Each of these firsts lifted my heart in some way. 

True, sometimes a first includes a bit of anxiety and even loss. There may be the first time you enter your home after a loved one has died or the first time you sensed, truly sensed, your own mortality. 

With the first snowfall what I am trying to hold close is the anticipation of the first day of Advent and each succeeding day as we approach the culmination of our waiting on Christmas Eve. At the same time I see in the not so far distance, the first day of the new year and I pray I can meet that day with hope and openness and purpose. 

Do you remember when the phrase "the first day of the rest of your life" was popular? Well, trite and overused as it was, it is also an invitation to live with our eyes and hearts open to possibility and surprise and enchanting beauty. 

In the Cleveland, Ohio, area where we lived for fourteen years each snowfall was like a first snowfall, for in-between snowstorms, the snow usually melted, and we got to start all over again. Here in Minnesota, where it stays cold more consistently throughout the winter, the snow remains and layers are added upon layers. The snow becomes crusty concrete. 



This week, however, we received the first snowfall in all its bewitching beauty. 

I rejoice in the first time. 

An Invitation
What "firsts" in your life do you recall? How can you restore the magic of a "first" back into your life? I would love to know. 




Thursday, December 8, 2016

Joy and Your Bucket List: Thursday's Reflection

One of the activities our Third Chapter Planning Team offered
recently at church was a Movie Morning. A small group gathered to enjoy popcorn, a movie, and fellowship. We watched The Bucket List starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman in which two men, unlikely companions, with a diagnosis of only months to live tackle items on their "before I kick the bucket" list.

Two questions are posed in the movie:  Where have you found joy in your life? and How have your brought joy into the world? 

Good questions. 

I have felt and known so much joy in my life and experience meaningful moments of joy every day. 

Being with a warm group of Third Chapter folks yesterday and sharing in their wisdom was one of those. Later in the day I met with my writing group and felt the joy of connection and acceptance and encouragement.  Plus, the joy that comes from relief when one of our group shared good medical test results. Those all feel like big moments of joy, but there were so many small moments, too, when my heart lifted in joy. 
         --Turning on the Christmas lights
         --Seeing a cardinal on top of the birdfeeder
         --Feeling the car's seat warmer
         --Tasting a  piece of my cherry walnut bread
         --Opening Christmas cards

The second questions is a bit harder to answer. It feels immodest to state where I have brought joy into the world, but I know where and how I have tried to do that, although certainly not always successfully --through my loving relationships, through my teaching and writing, through my practice as a spiritual director. Sometimes I feel another's heart lift because of something I have said or done, and there is a sense of shared joy. 

I know when I try to live in light, to stay awake and aware, I am more apt to both feel joy and deliver joy, however miniscule. That seems like a good thing to remember during this season when we can be diverted so easily by our culture's view of how to experience joy and what "things" represents joy. 

An Invitation
How do you answer the questions in The Bucket List?  I would love to know. 


          

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Quotes for Reflection: Tuesday's Post

It is time to open a new journal. That isn't quite like starting a new
year, but almost. I always have a sense of wonder when I begin writing in a new journal. What discoveries will I make? What memories will I record? What tales will I tell? How will this new journal unearth the person I was created to be? 

Before putting a journal to bed, however, I reread what I have written, paying particular attention to quotations I have recorded from books and articles and blogs read along the way.

I invite you to open each of the quotations as if it were a wrapped gift. Take off the bow and the paper carefully, for who knows, you might be able to use it again. No need to hold your breath as you take off the top of the box, for what is inside awaits to be discovered. Is it just what you wanted, needed? Is it something totally unexpected, but you suspect will be one of your favorite presents? Perhaps what is inside the box will become even more precious when it is shared with someone else. Does this gift show you how well you are known by the giver? If so, what is the best way to show appreciation for this gift?  


         I draw prayer round me like a dark protective wall,
         withdrawn inside it as one might into a convent cell
         and then step outside again, calmer and stronger and 
         more collected again.
                                                Etty Hillesum
                                                An Interrupted Life

         Hope is the instinct in us that something greater
         can become real. 
                                                Joan Chittister

         Enveloped in Your Light, may I be a beacon to those
         in search of Light. Sheltered in Your Peace, may I offer
         shelter to those in need of peace. Embraced by Your 
         Presence, so may I be present to others. 
                                                Rabbi Rami Shapiro

         Salvation happens every time someone with a key
         uses it to open a door he could lock instead.
                                                 Barbara Brown Taylor

          I can't decide whether to enjoy the world or improve
          the world; that makes it difficult to plan the day
                                                  E. B. White

           Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not 
           living in eternity. We have only this moment, 
           sparkling like a star in our hand--and melting like
           a snowflake.
                                                     Francis Bacon, Sr.

Consider these quotations as an early holiday gift. I hope one or two resonate with you--for I forgot to ask for a gift receipt. 

An Invitation
If any of the quotations inspired or opened you, I would love to know. 





Thursday, December 1, 2016

Change: Thursday's Reflection

Our house is in disarray this week as we deck the halls. Well, actually, we don't have halls in this house, but you know what I mean. 

Some things are the same as other years. For example, all our hand carved Santas, created by our talented friend Al Edwins, are housed in the big cupboard in the living room. The Charlie Brown tree is in the same entry way corner, and the vintage candle choir is singing on the kitchen window sill. 


But some things are different. I almost decided not to display the Snow Village houses this year. Previously, they have perched on the living room bookshelves, which meant removing piles of books. Piles!!!! 







But then I decided to arrange them on the bookshelves in the snug. Not only are those bookshelves not packed quite as tightly as the living room shelves, but what a cozy addition in the room where we spend much of our time. 


 
Intentional changes and ones that can be easily reversed are not so difficult, but not all changes are in those categories. 

I think about the changes many will experience during this holiday season. Loved ones no longer present. Or perhaps you have become consumed by caregiving, leaving little time or energy for the expected traditions. Maybe you feel physically more limited yourself this year. Or maybe retirement, unexpected or planned, has created space in your life, but you don't know exactly how to live in that space. 

When I hear others (or myself) talk about the "way we have always done it" or if the word "always" is inserted into conversation a bit too frequently, I feel a little rumble inside my head. A warning signal that change is coming no matter how we try to prevent it. 

Changing the placement of some of our Christmas decorations may not seem like much, but I think this simple act reminds me to be flexible, to be open to change and to prepare my heart and mind for the changes I least want to happen. 

An Invitation
What changes will you create this season? What change in your life means a change in the holidays? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Thin and Thick Places: Tuesday's Reflection

I'm sure you've heard of the Celtic notion of "thin places." A place where the boundary between heaven and earth feels thin; a place when you can sense the divine, the presence of God more readily. 

I don't know that I have experienced any "thin places" in my life, although there are places where I feel more in touch with and open to the movement of God in my life, and I have felt "thin" times, as when my mother was close to death. I am grateful for those times and places in my life, but what I seem to experience more frequently are places and times that feel "thick."

This time of year when we are on the bridge between Thanksgiving and Christmas often feels thick to me. Mainly because my lists are even longer than usual. 

Bruce and I had a Christmas summit this weekend in which we made our lists of presents to buy, entertaining to do, plans for decorating the house inside and out, etc. I felt better, at least briefly, once the list was made, but knowing what needs to happen is not the same as doing it. The doing takes effort, and I feel a bit stuck in the middle of a thick place right now where I can't quite imagine what my list will look like with big fat check marks next to each item. 

Most years I plunge in, finding a way to cut through the thickness, and eventually relishing the joys of the season, but this year seems more challenging. My sense is that is true for many of us, if we continue to grieve the election results, fear for the future, and wrestle with what to do and how to respond. Other losses can add to this feeling of almost impenetrable density. 

Of course, I know what I need in order to cut through the heaviness, the broad swath of solidity. The ground may feel shaky, but returning to what grounds me, saves me. More than ever, I need to maintain the spiritual practices that steady me and open me to cracks of light.  When I preserve time for meditating, praying, and writing in my journal, I am able to lift my head and move forward. 

Thick places then shrink and thin places become more tangible and visible. 
       
          When the limbs of our loyalty weaken
          And the desire to stand upright falters,
          When the lamp of love grows dark
          And faith lessens with anxious illusion,
          When the ability to go forward with joy
          Teeters awkwardly on broken dreams,
          We turn to you, our Restorer of Balance.
          We accept you inherent stability in us
           And begin our spiritual practice again,
           Slowly building up what has declined.
                                       Joyce Rupp

            

An Invitation
What do you do when you are in a "thick" place? I would love to know. 









Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving! Thursday's Reflection

Sometimes it is necessary to go to Plan B.


Last Thanksgiving our Cleveland kids were with us for Thanksgiving, as well as our St Paul kids and my Dad. I admit I always get a little nervous about fixing Thanksgiving dinner. Perhaps it is because I don't often fix a full turkey, and I never make mashed potatoes, even though I love them. And gravy, well, that still feels like a mystery to me, for some reason. 

Last year was my first time to fix Thanksgiving dinner in our teeny tiny kitchen, and I wasn't sure how I was going to manage it. As I retrieved my Thanksgiving folder where I keep our menus from year to year and copies of all our traditional recipes, I felt like a general preparing for battle. I checked and rechecked my grocery lists--one for Target, one for Trader Joes, and one for Lunds, where I do most of my shopping. For days I lugged in bags of groceries from the car, making sure I didn't forget anything.

I ordered a fresh turkey from Lunds, but was a bit nervous about it. In Ohio I went to a butcher in Amish country every year and ordered a fresh turkey, but here the first man I spoke with at the meat market didn't seem to think they sold fresh turkeys. No worries, the big bird was waiting for me when I picked it up the day before Thanksgiving. 

Wednesday I did as much of the preparations as I could and set the table, too, which is actually one of my favorite parts of entertaining. At Thanksgiving I love using our vintage Johnson Brothers turkey dinner plates, gold tone glassware, and Bakelite-handled flatware. A pretty table says, "Welcome. We are so happy to share our home with you." 

Plus, being a good Thanksgiving general, I strategized a plan to make sure everything would be ready to serve at the right time. I calculated how long something needed to be in the oven and for how long. And I made a major decision about the dinner's star, the turkey. 

I set up a card table in the lower level for the electric roaster. That's where I would roast the turkey. It would be out of way and free oven space for the rest of the feast. Perfect. I did a happy dance and congratulated myself for my brilliant idea. 

Thursday morning I prepared the turkey--stuffed it, trussed it, rubbed it with a butter and wine mixture a la Martha Stewart and at the right time placed it carefully, even lovingly in the electric roaster, following all instructions, of course. I returned upstairs and announced my success to the rest of the family. 

The first time I returned downstairs for the next round of basting, I wondered why I didn't smell anything nor was there any sound of gentle percolating. I touched the roaster --and it was cold. I didn't panic, yet. I checked to make sure I had actually turned it on. The light was on, but there was no heat. I plugged something else into the socket and that didn't seem to be the problem. The roaster simply was not doing its thing. Help!!! Now what?

That's where I needed Plan B. 

Fortunately, I had a roasting pan large enough to hold our turkey and fortunately, it would fit in my oven. I loaded the bird into the pan and lugged it upstairs. Some juggling and help from the rest of my team was required, but somehow everything was done at the same time, just a little later than planned, and we sat down at our beautiful table and gave thanks for the food we ate and the love we share each and every day. 

I believe in having a Plan B, but I also know sometimes things happen that require flexibility, ingenuity, and recalibration. And sometimes things happen that just can't be predicted. Those moments are often what we most remember. Those moments often reveal who we are and what matters most. Those moments are often where we recognize grace. 

As you sit down to your own Thanksgiving dinner, I pray you have a day in which you recognize and acknowledge what most matters to you and whatever happens, I hope you feel the touch of the Divine. Happy Thanksgiving!

An Invitation
When have you needed Plan B. I would love to know. 







Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Life, Death, Life: Tuesday's Reflection

I made the bed, took a shower and dressed, and when my phone rang, I answered it. The daughter of dear friends asked if Bruce, a hospice doc, could join them at the hospital this morning. We had been with them the day before and could see that life on earth was coming to an end for our friend. 

Bruce dressed quickly and left, and I went to our daughter's house to be with our grandson before school. He told me all about the movie he saw over the weekend and also about items for his Christmas list. I admit I only listened with half an ear and even less heart, for I was thinking about our friend approaching death.


Bruce texted me to come later in the morning, and since out of town friends would be coming later to stay the night before flying east to their family, I returned home briefly to clean a bathroom and make a grocery list. 

I drove to the hospital and joined Bruce and our dear friends. The vigil had started. Our friend was comatose. Tears flowed, but so did the stories. Someday I will write more about our amazing, one of a kind friend, but not today. 

And then he died. Peacefully, but all of a sudden he was no longer alive. No matter how one prepares that moment is still shocking, stunning.  

We stayed with our friends, and other friends and family arrived. Phone calls were made. We clung to each other, but also drifted apart for our own initial moments of grief. We saw our friend, now a widow, in a new light, a different stage of her life, one she had not known even moments before. 

At some point it was time to leave. Bruce drove home to do his  part time online hospice work, and I drove to the grocery store where the parking lot was jammed with Thanksgiving shoppers. Before facing the crowd, I checked messages and discovered a friend had sent me a video of the St Olaf Choir singing "Beautiful Savior" in a mall. Oh, how I needed that. 

I pushed my cart up and down the aisles, filling my basket, even though we are not hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year. The check out clerk asked, "How are you today?" and I wondered what she would say if I answered truthfully, "I am not so good. In fact, I am terribly sad, for a good friend died today."

But I just said, "Fine." I had a pleasant conversation with the man who took my groceries to the car. We wished each other a happy Thanksgiving, and I got in my car and drove home. 

Life. Death. Life.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Sorting:Thursday's Reflection

I'm having trouble sorting --no, not the laundry. That's easy. 


No, the question is how do I decide what to do next? Where do I spend my time and energy and even money?

Usually, making a list and organizing tasks or ideas or possibilities into categories helps me sort and determine my priorities, but not right now. 

Many of you have shared your responses to the current events in our country and have indicated your plans and next steps, ways you hope to make a difference. So many great ideas and options for community involvement, along with ways to intentionally open our hearts beyond ourselves. 

For example, a writer in this community whom I so respect is going to start a weekly centering prayer group in her home. I love that idea and entertain the idea myself about starting a group at church. And that idea leads to others--a day to walk the labyrinth during Advent or at the beginning of the year. Should I offer a third series of Open to Spirit, the women's spirituality group I have facilitated?  I don't know. 

I've said "yes" to a couple opportunities, but now I am second guessing myself. 

This is a time of discernment. A time, according to ancient wisdom, "to make haste slowly."

Marilyn McEntyre in her stunning book, Word By Word, A Daily Spiritual Practice, writes, 
            
            Something happens in the pause... Is this really the 
            call of the moment, or a distraction to be resisted? 
            Am I about to say yes out of a need to please? Would 
            my yes come from generosity rather than capitulation? 
            My no from wise stewardship rather than selfishness 
            or sloth?...

            Claiming a moment of stillness in the midst of
            decision-making is also a practice of the presence
            of God, a chance to remember that we stand in the
            presence of Love itself, bathed in it, upheld by it,
            embraced, forgiven, and when we are willing, guided
            by it. 

To be clear, however, taking time to discern is not about procrastinating or coming up with excuses for not doing something or for hiding our heads in the sand. Just as sorting the laundry can not be ignored, this is not the time to let everyone else do the work that needs to be done. There is more than enough to go around, but I encourage you to sort through the possibilities intentionally and prayerfully. 

An Invitation
Where are you in the sorting process? I would love to know. 



            

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A Week Later: Tuesday's Reflection

Scattered Thoughts
I start this post Sunday afternoon. Much to my surprise it is still warm enough to sit in our side garden, the sanctuary garden, or as we call it, "Paris." Here I can observe my block of the world, but also remain private.

Since last Tuesday I have vacillated between being part of the world and retreating from the world. 

Many of you have sent me your own personal reflections about the election results or articles or links to what others have written. I have read them all, but have chosen to respond minimally. I have stayed off Facebook and have not spent much time with other media. 

Instead, I have spent longer than usual time in morning meditation and prayer time, and I have considered carefully my activities. I have weighed which ones will restore equilibrium, which ones will bring clarity and clear the space for new insights, and which ones will further exhaust and bring additional muddle to a puzzled mind. 

Here's what I have come to understand so far, although "understand" may be far too optimistic of a word.

*  As I try to analyze what I am feeling and experiencing, I remember other times my body and my spirit have responded this way.  At first I thought this need to be still and quiet reminded me of times when loved ones have died, but that is not quite accurate. Instead, this is the way I have felt when death has been approaching, when I have waited for the event of death. Once the death has become known, a reality, I have moved into action, doing what needs to be done. I am not at an action stage quite yet.
      Spending time in solitude, in silence is the way I stay grounded for whatever comes next, for whatever way I need to act. Wrapping myself in solitude is a way to save up for days when tasks and activity dominate. Staying true to the spiritual practices that sustain me undergirds my relationship to God when what I believe feels shaky. 
       As a nation we are approaching a kind of death in this assault on a vision of whom we hope to be, but have not yet achieved. I want to respond authentically, based on the person I was created to be. Therefore, I have needed more time than usual to listen to the invitations in this time of uncertainty. These are days of discernment.

*  Sunday mornings we go to church, and it is always good. But today, we needed to be there. We needed not only to hear the call of God as expressed in the sermon, the prayers, the hymns, the readings, but we also needed to be in community. We needed to hug and to stand together. I needed to come up for air, to poke my head out from the covers. Yes, I cried almost before crossing the threshold, and the waves of tears continued, but I was not alone. Everything seemed poignant, from the prayer of the day, which included these words, "with you as our ruler and guide, we may live through what is temporary without losing what is eternal," to the baptisms of two baby girls, Penelope Rose and Lucy Mae. Metaphorically, at least, we all squeezed a baby, and we needed that. 
     Once again I learned how important it is to balance my alone time with community. 

*    Am I any clearer about next steps? Maybe. I know I will continue meeting with spiritual direction clients, leading spirituality groups, and writing posts for this blog, but I will also continue working on my spiritual memoir, for I hope my wrestling with the movement of God in my life may add to greater awareness of the working of the sacred, the divine, the holy. But I am also determined to soften my own rough edges, the judgments I make without thinking and to fill-in the blanks where kindness is needed. 
        And I know I need to DO more to be with people who are in need in some way. I am going to attend a meeting this coming weekend of congregations concerned about what this election might mean for those who already feel oppressed, and I have decided I will say "yes" to an invitation to visit homebound members of our congregation during the upcoming holidays. Other ways will unfold. 
        Many of us in retirement age struggle to find a purpose for this stage in life. Others become self-absorbed, saying, "it is someone else's turn." Well, I am here to challenge you. There is more than enough to do, and each of us has gifts to offer. If you have been holding back, get out there. Share your openness, your wisdom, your gifts. 

This is a longer post --and more rambling--than what I usually write, but my heart is full, and I am grateful for your willingness to sit with me. I sit with you.

An Invitation
Where are you being led now? I would love to know. 
      


           


Thursday, November 10, 2016

What Now? Thursday's Reflection

Like many of you, I am stunned, and I am walking around with an open wound. For right now I need to weep and wallow and be shocked and sad and even scared, but what about next week and next month and into next year? Soon it will be time to gather our strength and take the next brave steps.


I have been thinking about what Hillary's campaign chairman John Pedesta said to the crowd in the early hours of the morning, "Go home and get some sleep." The convention center had been reserved for another group, and the area needed to be vacated, but even if that weren't the case, there is wisdom in his words. 

How often "go home and get some sleep" is the best advice.

Go home to what grounds and sustains you. Go home to what supports you. Your base. Your truth. 

Get some sleep, for even though the reality will not have magically changed when you wake up, you will be better able to cope and to take the next step. No one makes good decisions or sees anything clearer when exhausted. 

And besides as a friend wrote this morning, "At least the sun came out this morning." Night always becomes day and day turns into night and night into day. This we know. 

I don't know exactly what the next step needs to be, however, but I know there can't be a return to business as usual. The next steps need to include listening to one another, really listening, being willing to hear deep into the hurts and the fears and the hopes and dreams of all peoples.

An Invitation
How are you and what do you intend to do next? I would love to know. 




Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A Day to Remember: Tuesday's Reflection

I marked the day in my heart: Saturday, November 5, 2016. Nothing remarkable happened that day. Not really. It wasn't an anniversary or birthday or something similar, but nonetheless it felt like a special day, a day worth remembering.

While Bruce attended his men's book group at church, which he always enjoys, I cleaned the first floor. Other than the kitchen, which needed attention, the house wasn't particularly messy, but I was eager to replace some of the pumpkins with turkeys and other Thanksgiving decor. I enjoy the trial and error of deciding what decorations to use and how to best arrange them. 

Because the day was so beautiful, a continuation of this golden fall we have been experiencing, we decided to go for a drive in his Miata. With the top down. I don't recall being able to do that this late in the season ever before. We followed the Mississippi River where the trails were alive with people running and walking and rollerblading or sitting on a bench soaking in the surprising sun. We smiled at a bride and her bridesmaids following a photographer. I bet they were stunned by their good weather fortune.

Once home I thought about returning to the garret to write, but had not yet had my fill of warmth on my cheeks. I picked up my current book, only 60 pages from the end, and sat in our side garden, our sanctuary garden, which we lovingly call "Paris," for it reminds us of private enclosed gardens in Paris. I closed my eyes and wondered what month it was. September? October? Surely not November. 

Our evening was quiet. A bit more reading, but also watching The Crown about Queen Elizabeth on Netflix and then early to bed. 

A day that deserves to be remembered--for its warmth, for the glow of fall leaves floating in the sunshine, for its ease of companionship, for it being an unremarkable remarkable day. 

May each day be one to be remembered. 

An invitation
I know you will remember that today is Election Day, making it a remarkable day, but what else will you remember? I would love to know.  






Thursday, November 3, 2016

Unexpected Gifts: Thursday's Reflection



What do these pictures have in common with each other? 

I won't keep you in suspense. Both pictures were taken this week. I took the one of glowing pumpkins on Halloween, of course, but the photograph of the rose bush was taken yesterday morning in our backyard. 

And in spite of their obvious differences both sights inspired delight.

Halloween evening we walked a spooky street near our house. Many of the homes on those blocks were decorated with great imagination and creativity in their own versions of trick and treat. The effort of those households was an unexpected gift. No admission was charged, but instead all were welcome to enjoy the slightly scary ambience. Awesome!

Just as awesome is the sight of roses still blooming in November. How glorious is the stunning color of fuchsia against a backdrop of the more expected faded golds and oranges of the end of fall. Amazing and surprising.

I have no real insights to offer today,  but, instead, an invitation to open your eyes to what might surprise and delight you. Allow your normal loop of life to be a path of wonder and pleasure. Challenge yourself to complete these sentences today:
Today I noticed _______________ and it was ______________.
I never noticed before how ________________.
One of the best gifts of today was________________.

I can hardly wait to discover more unexpected beauty in this day. 


An Invitation
What did you experience today that surprised or delighted you? I would love to know. 



Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Buying Just One: Tuesday's Reflection

Tucked in a drawer in my garret office are four packages of printer ink. The only problem is the printer I now own does not use that ink. Recently, I needed to buy a new printer. My old one served me well for the past six, seven or maybe longer years, so I didn't mourn when it was apparent I needed to buy a new one. Plus, I was surprised at how much cheaper a new printer is compared to the last time I bought one. 

But now what do I do with all these packages of ink? I think I bought a couple at Target so I will try returning those, but I certainly don't have the proper receipts for Office Max or Staples or wherever I might have bought them. Because this specific model of cartridge is no longer easy to find, I buy one or two whenever I see them. Thus, I now have a surplus. (Anybody need an HP 74 black ink cartridge?)

Buying in multiples used to be my shopping strategy. A huge package of 24 or even 36 rolls of toilet paper or a large package of chicken breasts, which I then separated into servings for two and popped them all in the freezer. Two for one deals attracted me, along with subscribing to a magazine for two or three years, in order to save more. 

No longer --or at least not as much.

I could say the change related to having less storage space, and that is true to a certain extent. I am good at organizing and being creative about space, but after living in this house for three years, I know how many rolls of toilet paper we can accommodate at one time and the largest laundry detergent container the delegated spot on a laundry room shelf can hold. 

Space is only part of the answer, however. 

Another part is my age. How do I know I will live long enough to enjoy The New Yorker for three more years? Does it actually make sense to have ongoing automatic withdrawal to support Minnesota Public Radio when I might not be around to enjoy it?

I know this sounds bleak, and I hasten to add I am in good health and have no reason to believe I won't be reading The New Yorker in 2020, but this is a stage of life when life is not taken for granted. I am more aware of the shift in the hourglass: more sand in the bottom than in the top, and the sand is draining into the bottom much faster, it seems. 

That awareness affects my attitudes and my actions, even buying toilet paper.

An Invitation
What have you changed in your life that used to seem normal or routine? I would love to know

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Moving from One Season to the Next: Thursday's Reflection

 Have you noticed the squirrels hustling in your yard? They scurry across our window boxes burying nuts and then digging them up, just to make sure they are there, I guess. The squirrels are not the only ones preparing for winter. Bruce has spent hours outside putting the gardens to bed, protecting them as much as possible from the deep cold we get here in Minnesota. He has gathered leaves to use as mulch and wrapped the lavender beds with burlap and cut back other areas. The gardens appear to be ready for whatever comes.

My winter preparations have not been quite as obvious, but I did put away summer pillows in the living room, replacing them with leopard print ones and adding a cozy fake fur throw. 





And in our bedroom I took down the sheer white curtains and instead, hung heavy grey velvet panels. Also, I folded a snuggly quilt at the bottom of the bed. I have stored summer clothes and got out sweaters and turtlenecks and corduroy pants, and I checked my winter coats to see if I missed taking any to the dry cleaners last spring. 

Plus, I shuffled through recipe files moving soup and stew recipes to the top of the pile.

Next week the Jeep will have its winter check up, and soon Bruce will disconnect the battery in his little Miata to rest in the garage till spring. 

An Aside: When we lived at Sweetwater Farm a big part of the fall to winter transition was moving the animals into the barn. No small or easy task. Our own personal rodeo! Oh, the stories I could tell you. 

Moving from one season to another reminds me to be mindful of living fully in the present--relishing the beauties of these fall days--even as I look to the needs of the future. Balance. Once again I am called to seek balance. Maybe one of these days I will figure it out. 

An Invitation 
What fall into winter tasks do you have? What strategies do you have for creating balance in your life? I would love to know.