Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Daily Discernment: Tuesday's Reflection

Several people I know are facing decisions in their lives about
where to live. Is it time to sell their house and move into a senior living facility of some sort. Is it time to move out of a larger space into a smaller one? Is it at least time to explore options for the future? 

Others I know have been forced into situations not of their own choosing, but thanks to decisions others have made, they are now in the midst of an unclear "now what?" time. Others have chosen an ending, but the next step is hidden in shadow. 

Still others are struggling with what might be considered smaller subjects, such as which health care plan to choose or whether or not to serve in a requested leadership role in the community. Sometimes the choices are confusing and the answer is definitely not clear. 

These are times of discernment. Times when we are asked to stop and listen for and notice the movement of God in our lives. Times when we are asked to stop asking and instead invited to listen. 

What I have come to realize over the years is that the practice of discernment is a daily practice. A practice of noticing what you notice. A practice of slowing down, being present, and visiting your own heart as a voice of authority and wisdom. 

This past week my To Do list was particularly long and the days were full, leading to a week when I will not be home for several days. I felt pressed to keep on doing long after I was tired and not able to give my best. I plodded through several tasks just to say I had done them and I ignored ways to refresh and restore.

What I tend to forget is that sometimes strength and clarity comes in the standing still. Sometimes the answer is revealed in the pause. A question I try to remember to ask when I feel muddled or crushed by "shoulds" is "What is it I most need to do right now?" By "need" I don't mean what is it someone else demands of me or thinks I should do, but what is my True Self calling me to do or who am I asked to be right now? 

One morning last week when I had accomplished only a few items on THE LIST, I stepped back and away from my dictator self and into God Time. I paused and opened my hands, palms lifted to the sky, took a deep breath and closed my eyes, lightly, not tightly. I can't hear when I speak, but sometimes I can see when I close my eyes.   

When I practice clearing the space intentionally and frequently, as part of the way I live daily and routinely, a next step seems apparent, even logical. In this case I returned to my desk and I spent the rest of the morning writing, working on the current chapter for my book. I didn't think I had time to do that, but that was exactly what I needed to do and doing that gave me energy for  everything else I needed to complete. 

               To use the tool that we call discernment, we 
               must come to stillness. In the silence of our 
               hearts, we must wait patiently for the compass
               needle to steady. Then it will point to true north,
               the still center, the fine point of the soul, and we
               will be enabled to move forward again.
                                           Margaret Silf

An Invitation
What role does discernment play in your life? When you are faced with a decision, big or small, what do you do? I would love to know. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Summer Spirituality: Thursday's Reflection

Memorial Day weekend signals the start of summer. True, summer officially begins June 20, but try telling that to the thousands of Minnesotans who trek to "the lake" this weekend. Summer can be short here in the upper Midwest, and each day of warmth and sunshine is treasured. 

I'm more of a winter person myself, but that is the topic for another time. Right now I am thinking about the satisfactions of summer:
* Walking out the front door without bundling up, without adding all those extra layers.
* Enjoying Bruce's garden magic of color and every shade of green.
* Riding in Bruce's little car with the top down. Even basic errands feel more fun in that car.
* Eating the summer foods--corn on the cob and other fresh fruit and vegetables from the Farmers' Market.
* Exploring from the seat of my new bike.

What's on your list?

I feel a shift in the summer and invite myself to experience the spirituality of summer. 

Summer Spontaneity. Summer invites me to listen to what calls me right now. What is it I most want to do right now? Read a book in our sanctuary garden? Get an ice cream cone? Walk in the evening to night time dusk? Drive an unfamiliar street? Call a friend and say, "Let's meet for lunch. Are you free?" Go to a movie on a hot, muggy afternoon or decide at the last minute to go to a concert in the park. Summer spontaneity invites me to let go of my list and calendar and follow the whim of the moment.  

Summer Stillness. Summer invites me to stop and enjoy the wonders of a June, July, August world. To listen to the birds in the morning. To sit by one of our many lakes and see beneath the surface. To walk a labyrinth, becoming more quiet with each step and more attuned to the voice within. To nap in a lawn chair. To remember summers of the past and to be grateful for this specific summer. 

Summer Silliness. Similar, perhaps to Summer Spontaneity, but summer seems to require and open us to a double dose of fun. Last summer we declared one day to be "Donut Day." Two of our dear friends willingly joined us and we enjoyed donuts in several bakeries. Laughing our way to a sugar high. (Read post here.) Such fun. What will it be this year? Stay tuned. 

Your summer spirituality may include summer spaciousness or sacredness or simplicity or a summer sabbatical. Whatever summer opens for you, may it be safe and may it be sweet.

An Invitation
What does summer summon for you? I would love to know. 

You may enjoy reading another post I wrote about Memorial Day. Read post here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Empty Drawers: Tuesday's Reflection

Thanks to our recent garage sale and our intentional decision these past years to downsize, we have drawers and shelves and closets packed far less tightly. We have fewer bins stacked in storage areas. 

We have empty drawers. 

While we will never be minimalists, we feel less smothered by stuff. Granted, we have loved our collections and the process of amassing treasures, but enough is enough. Now is another time.

This past weekend we had a garage sale, a very successful one, I might add, and it was interesting to note people's reactions. Some were almost melancholy.

"How can you bear to give up so many beautiful things?"

"I should be home cleaning out and having my own garage sale, instead of buying more things myself."

"I don't need one more thing, but…"

Others, usually young women with a child or two in tow, were so excited to find items that could add to the beauty and pleasures of their own home tending. I love imagining my vintage tablecloths in kitchens and dining rooms and green depression glass containers now full of sugar and flour on open shelving. In someone else's home. This is the right time of their lives for gathering. 

Often people say they want to simplify and sort and organize at this stage of life, so they don't leave their children with a mess. That is admirable, a gift, and a worthy goal, but for me this process is also about creating emotional space, along with time to be and do what matters most right now.  

Of course, empty drawers can be a temptation. The temptation to fill them again, but I am determined not to let that happen. My newly created empty spaces do not mean I feel empty or am empty. My empty drawers are more a symbol of freedom, rather than emptiness. In fact, I feel full in the best heart-full ways. 

An Invitation
What spaces do you want to create in your life? I would love to know. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Gatherings at the Little House: Thursday's Reflection

During the last few days our home has been filled with Spirit. The
Spirit of laughter and new friendships. The Spirit of connection. The Spirit of response to our true callings and essence. The Spirit of blessing as one leaves our midst, but remains in our hearts. 

Most days our Little House is quiet. True, I meet my spiritual direction clients here and the walls absorb our reflections. True, our grandson Peter sometimes is here after school, chatting about his day, teasing his Papa about this and that. And now with the windows open we hear the neighborhood children enjoying outside play, but inside our house we move through our days with quiet contentment, tending to our tasks and our pleasures. 

How good it has been these last few days to fill the house with lively conversation and a welcoming sense of community. Sunday evening ten of us gathered for an informal potluck supper, and Tuesday morning the women of Opening to Spirit, a monthly group I have led focused on spiritual practice, assembled to offer blessings to one of our participants before she leaves on a big adventure. And that afternoon the women in my writing group met, each one in our usual living room spot, as if huddled around a campfire, to share our latest efforts. 

 I loved preparing for each of these circles of Spirit. 

I welcomed each guest in my heart even before the doorbell rang or someone crossed the threshold. And I thought about the often-quoted verse, "Where ever two or more are gathered in My name, there I am with them." (Matthew 18:20)

                 As I lay the fork near the plate,
                 let me remember this is Your table, not mine.
                 As I set the water glasses down
                 and fold the napkins, let me be reminded
                 that every setting at this table
                 is Yours, not mine.

                 Each one who will partake of this meal
                 is a particular someone You love, a someone
                 You have made and whom You sustain.
                 In You nothing and no one is forgotten.
                 How vast and providential is the memory
                 with which You keep us all. 
                                            from "Setting the Table"
                                            Being Home, A Book of Meditations
                                            Gunilla Norris

The house has returned to quiet now, but the gifts of fellowship and communion remain. I feel nurtured and fed, even as we have offered food to others. I feel the Presence of Spirit. 

An Invitation
When do you feel Spirit's presence? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Retirement: Tuesday's Reflection

This week begins a new stage in my husband's life --and by
Bruce, the Medical Student
association, in my life, as well. He is now fully retired. After graduating from St Louis University Medical School in 1974 and practicing medicine full-time first as a family physician and later as a hospice physician in various roles, his days of being on call night and day have ended. For most of his career he was devoted to offering quality end of life care, and those of you who have been privileged to see him at the bedside know what a caring physician, colleague and boss he has been all these years. 

Bruce is a modest person, someone who believes in being collaborative and not competitive, but you need to know he was one of the pioneering hospice physicians in this country. In part because of his work,  hospice is no longer an unknown concept.

At a party recently a young neighbor asked him, "Is there anything you've been longing to do that you have not had time to do?"

What a gentle way to ask the "what's next?" or "what are you going to do now?" 

Bruce's answer was equally gentle. He remarked that he has tried to live a balanced life and not put off what has been important to him. I attest to that, for he has always made time for his family, for his church, and for his interests, such as reading, gardening and antiquing. He has lived a gentle and caring life, and I suspect that is how he will continue to approach the beginning of his retirement years. 

                    This is where your life has arrived,
                    After all the years of effort and toil;
                    Look back with graciousness and thanks
                    On all your great and quiet achievements.

                    You stand on the shore of new invitation
                     To open your life to what is left undone;
                     Let your heart enjoy a different rhythm
                     When drawn to the wonder of other horizons.
                                               from "For Retirement"
                                               To Bless the Space Between Us,
                                               A Book of Blessings
                                               John O'Donohue

An Invitation
What comes to mind when you think of being retired? If you are retired already, what words of wisdom do you have? I would love to know. 


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Garage Sales and LIfe Review: Thursday's Reflection

We have set the dates for our first garage sale of the season. May
19-21. Now comes the hard part--actually getting ready for those days. Even though we have had successful garage sales the last two summers, the second floor of our garage remains full of treasures from our past. Not only are there leftovers from past sales, but I keep adding to the piles. 

I am ready--more than ready--to let go of so much of what we enjoyed at one time. In this upcoming sale I hope to sell stacks of colorful vintage picnic and lunch tins and neatly folded and ironed bright and playful tablecloths from the 40's and 50's. And more. It is time. No regrets.

4th of July at Sweetwater Farm

In a way getting ready for a garage sale is like doing a Life Review. I recall a small town antique mall where we found the perfect addition to a collection or I remember decorating for the 4th of July with red, white, and blue tablecloths. I think about all the fall motif tablecloths I collected to use on the tables at the rehearsal dinner for our son and daughter-in-love. Or what about the day we moved into our house in Madison and our daughter arranged piece after piece of Ohio pottery on top of the kitchen cupboards? The memories come pouring forth--and believe me, I have more than enough pitchers to hold those memories!

Each memory is attached to a particular home and space, as well as a time of my life. And one memory leads to another. Story by story I move through the years. I note the joys, but the sorrows are there too, and should not be ignored, although with some it is time to mark "For Sale" and add to the garage sale. 

Life Review helps me see and understand who I was, what gave me pleasure and how I created home. Life Review, also, helps me prepare for whatever stage I am in now. I ask myself what do I most want to bring with me into these current days? What matters most? 

Part of growing into our wisdom years is creating both exterior and interior space --the kind that can come from doing a Life Review and having a garage sale! 

An Invitation
Where are you in your Life Review process and what are you learning? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Cleaning on the Weekends: Tuesday's Reflection

When I worked full-time outside the home, Saturday morning was
Saturday Morning Vacuuming
most often reserved for cleaning the whole house, top to bottom. At some point during the weekend, I did the grocery shopping as well. Laundry, including ironing, usually was accomplished during the week, but most jobs needed weekend time and energy. 

How long has it been since I worked full-time outside the home? A long time and yet many Saturday mornings I clean. I may also do some grocery shopping on the weekends, but only because I can't seem to get my head around doing a week's worth of menu planning anymore and end up shopping every couple days. What is that about?

Why is it so uncomfortable for me to do something because I feel like doing it now, no matter the day or the time of day? Why is it I can't decide in the present moment what makes most sense right now? And why can't I break out of old routines and stop listening to old tapes? 

Does the house really need to be cleaned every week anyway? If it doesn't get done on Saturday, can't it wait till Monday? Well, no because Monday I volunteer in the school library and on Mondays I write a post for Tuesday's blog and I pay the bills and continue working on my book and…. 

I have told myself week days are for my work as a spiritual director and writer and to participate in volunteer activities. The weekends are for house tasks. The weekends are also when I am allowed to play. If there is time. 

How ridiculous is all that? 

Clearly, I still live within an old pattern and former routines: a division between weekdays and weekends. 

In a few days my husband will be fully retired, and there will be even less reason to structure the week the ways we have in the past. Neither one of us knows exactly what this will mean for our daily life yet. Theoretically, it could mean more flexibility, more availability and spontaneity, and more willingness to respond to the needs and interests of the moment. We have an opportunity to choose what we do and when we do it. 

Here's a thought: I could sit and read a book purely for pleasure on a Tuesday morning, and I could work on a new chapter for my book Sunday afternoon, if I feel like it. Bruce and I could go for a long drive in his little sports car on a Wednesday afternoon, if we want to. We could even go to a movie during the week. The possibilities are endless once we start thinking outside the weekday-weekend box.

Maybe the box I am in is one labelled "The Way It Has Always Been" or "The Way I Have Always Done It." Perhaps it is time to change the label of the box to "Evaluation Time" or "New Possibilities Time." Perhaps it is time to move the box to the garage and instead ask, "Who has God created me to be at this stage of my life?" 

An Invitation
What box are you in and what freedom and possibilities await you outside the box? I would love to know. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Graduation: Thursday's Reflection

Saturday I drove past Augsburg College in Minneapolis and
Oh dear, my high school graduation day--bad hair and all! 
noticed small clusters of people. Each cluster included someone adorned in cap and gown. Graduation!

I immediately flashed on graduation days in my own life: high school and college, my husband Bruce's from medical school and of course, our children's graduations. And then just as quickly I thought how quickly Maren, our 13 year old granddaughter, will graduate from high school. 

Graduations are special days of celebration. 

A Brief Story
Both my husband Bruce and I graduated from St Olaf College in 1970. We had dated each other during those years, but not senior year. After the commencement ceremony, graduates picked up their actual diplomas in the registrar's office. Bruce and I passed each other on the walk outside the office, and I blithely said to him, "Have a nice life." Little did we know in just over a year we would marry each other and would create that "nice life" together.   

Graduations signal an ending and a beginning, one we hope will lead us to the desired "nice life." We graduate from something and someplace and graduate to something and someplace else. Graduation becomes a time of transition when we hold past, present, and future in our hands in the same moment. 

Imagine the person you are now walking across the stage of a commencement ceremony today. Take a deep breath and ask yourself,  What is it I am graduating from?  As I view my life what regrets or hurts require graduation? What "shoulds" I've held onto rigidly for oh, so many years deserve a ceremony of "been there, done that"? How about judgements about the way I think things or people should be --oops, another "should." Where have I been closed? 

As you return to your seat, diploma in hand, ask yourself, What does graduation signal for my present and my future? Graduation is a time to be grateful for the accomplishments in our life, the learnings and the ways we have been able to use our gifts and skills. How can I use my gifts now? What is it I am called to do now? Be now? Are there people we need to thank for their help, support and guidance over the years?   

How well do I really know myself? In what ways can I be more open? Where do I need to redirect my energy? What relationships do I need to tend? Can I build on my life experiences to live with more compassion, love and forgiveness? 

There are no official additional degrees or diplomas in my future and yet, graduation can be an ongoing theme in our wisdom years. 

                                For Celebration
                               John O'Donohue

                      Now is the time to free the heart,
                      Let all intentions and worries stop,
                      Free the joy inside the self,
                      Awaken to the wonder of your life.

                      Open your eyes and see the friends
                      Whose hearts recognize your face as kin,
                      Those whose kindness watchful and near,
                      Encourages you to live everything here.

                      See the gifts the years have given,
                      Things your effort could never earn,
                      The health to enjoy who you want to be
                      And the mind to mirror mystery.
                                            From To Bless the Space Between Us
                                                      A Book of Blessings 

An Invitation
Think of yourself as a graduate today. Listen to your heart. Where is your graduation leading you now? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Being Helpful and Supportive; Tuesday's Reflection

A teenage daughter in one of our congregation's families attempted suicide recently. The family is well-known and loved, and I am sure many wonder, as I do, "What can I do? How can I help and be supportive"

Ways to Help
We help, it seems to me, when we jump in and do the practical, hands-on things needed to ease day-to-day responsibilities and stress. 
* Bring a meal.
* Do laundry.
* Buy groceries.
* Mow the lawn/shovel snow.
* Babysit. Plan a special event for children in the family. 
* Fill their car with gas. 
* Be a driver for appointments. 
* Clean the house, take out garbage, change beds.
* Walk the dog. 
* Make and return phone calls and emails.

You get the idea. These are tasks that are a normal part of life and if they don't get done, life gets more complicated, overwhelming. 

Ways to Support
When you are helpful, you are also supportive, but I think "support" is more a response of the heart. Support may be lies tangible, but no less effective. Here are some ways to show support:
* Set up a prayer group. Add the person to a prayer list. Share only as much information as the person permits. 
* Send cards, postcards, letters. Yes, emails are great, too, but how  loving and caring is it to receive a note you can hold in your hand? 
* Give a gift certificate for a massage or Reiki session. Manicure or facial.
* Offer hugs.
* Plan diversion activities--watch a funny movie together, go for a walk or bike ride, gather friends for a dinner out (or bring dinner in).

The best way to be supportive is to listen.  

Listen, listen, listen. 

A Gentle Reminder
When I was recovering from surgery for cancer many years ago, one of my husband's colleagues called me. The phone call from her was very nice, but she kept pressing me. "How are you?" she said in a concerned voice. When I replied I was doing well, getting better every day, she continued to press. "No, really, how are you?" I know she had good intentions, but I did not know her. It was my prerogative to decide what to share and with whom.  

Ask and offer to listen, but pay attention to cues. 

A Resource
Help Me Live, 20 Things People With Cancer Want You to Know by Lori Hope Even though the title indicates that cancer is the focus, I recommend this book for a variety of crises and challenging personal situations. 

An Invitation
In what ways have you been helped and supported? Do you know someone who needs help and support? I would love to know.