Thursday, May 18, 2017

Rain: Thursday's Reflection

If I lived in the United Kingdom would I be more inclined to walk 
in the rain? 

I recently read a charming book called Rain, Four Walks in English Weather by nature writer Melissa Harrison, and it occurred to me that I am almost totally unprepared for rainy walks. I do have umbrellas, but I don't even have a rain coat or jacket or rain boots. I dash and dart between rain showers. I scurry from the house to the car when there is a downpour, and I certainly don't go on a morning walk if it is raining, even lightly. 

Why is that?  

First thing in the morning, I checked the weather app on my phone to see the chances of rain at any given hour of the day. 7:00 am. 50%; 8:00 a.m. 30%. I decided to chance it, grabbed an umbrella, a full-sized one, instead of the mini I carry in my purse, and headed out the door a few minutes before 7. It turned out I was on the rainless side of the 50%, and I didn't need to open my umbrella or walk faster than my usual leisurely pace.  

Here's what Harrison says, 
            ...if you only ever go out on sunny days you only see
            half the picture, and remain somehow untested and
            callow; whereas discovering that you can withstand
            all the necessary and ordinary kinds of weather creates
            a satisfying feeling of equanimity in the face of life's
            vicissitudes that may or may not be rational, but is real

I haven't considered the character developing properties of rain, even though, as a Minnesotan, I know I am tougher and more resilient because of our extreme winters. At least that's what we claim here in the Midwest!

It is raining as I write this and I could grab my umbrella and go for another walk. Maybe instead I will do some online shopping for the proper gear. Or maybe I will just daydream about walking on a rainy day across the English moors. 

An Invitation
Are you a fair weather walker? Or are you made of tougher stuff? I would love to know. 

Note: A bonus in the Melissa Harrison book is her list of rainy words. My favorite is muzzle--a fine, misty rain. Here are some others: 
A blashy day--a wet day
Cow-quaker--a sudden storm in May, after the cows have been turned out to pasture
Dringey--the kind of light rain that still manages to get you soaking wet
Hurly-burly--thunder and lightning
Posh--a strong shower
Slobber--thin, cold rain, mixed with snow
Thunner-pash--a heavy shower with thunder

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

New View: Tuesday's Reflection

Our windows are clean! No, we don't hire out. In fact, this is the first time we have washed our windows since we had new ones installed at The Little House. One of the incentives for washing the windows, in addition to their being dirty and grimy, was Bruce's eagerness to plant the window boxes outside the snug. Once planted washing the windows would have been challenging. 

Surprisingly, the job was not that difficult, although it did take up a chunk of time on a gorgeous weekend. The result, however, is worthy of oohs and aahs, we think. 

What a bright and shiny, clear and open view of our world we now have. 

A new view, a new perspective is what can happen when we intentionally choose to reframe something in our life. I read someplace that choosing to change our negative or fearful or hesitant way of thinking or feeling is "putting our mind under new management." The way we tend to see things, to understand truth, is our own personal frame. Reframing opens us to other viewpoints, allows us to see new possibilities, helps us grow and stretch, and even creates a better sense of well-being. 

Perhaps we are frustrated and grumpy when the day turns out to be a rainy one, instead of the sunny one we hoped for. Our plan was to walk or go for a bike ride or work in the garden or entertain friends on the patio. Reframing, seeing the day through clean windows, might lead us to get cozy with the book we have been meaning to read or decide to go to a museum exhibit we put on the someday list or write a letter to someone who could use a kind word. 

Perhaps you are caught in a unforeseen life transition or challenge--retirement sooner than anticipated, illness, concerns about a child or friend, or financial difficulties. Maybe you feel overwhelmed with regret or grief or sadness. Is there a way to invite an additional perspective into the present situation?

I don't mean to imply we should adopt a "pollyanna" attitude. In fact, I think that often results in delayed reactions. Instead, what I suggest is opening to new learnings, new relationships, new understandings, new gifts. New views. 

A friend told me recently about a difficult time in her life and while the struggle didn't melt away in pools of sunshine, she did discover who the stand-up people are in her life. Those who are willing to be there with her when she most needs them. Now that is a clean and shining window.

"Found" Time
If you have read my blog for awhile, you are familiar with my phrase "found time," which is a way to reframe changes in schedule or periods of waiting we all encounter in our everyday life. When a client needs to cancel an appointment at the last minute, I am sorry to miss that connection, but I ease into a different way of thinking. Oh, now I can.... When I wait in line at Target or the post office, I try to use that time as a companion to stillness, listing my gratitudes of the moment or observing the life around me. "Found" time is breathing time. 

The house feels a bit brighter today, thanks to our clean windows, and I feel a bit brighter too, knowing I can reframe my attitude and perspective. 

An Invitation
Are there any inner windows in your life that need washing? I would love to know. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Spring Time Adjustments: Thursday's Reflection

I'm feeling itchy, antsy, jumpy. I have a major stack of books waiting to be read, and I can't seem to get beyond the first page or two of any of them. Work on my book awaits me, and I sit and stare at it. I could wash windows, for they definitely need it, but that feels like more commitment than I can muster. I don't know what to fix for dinner or how to order the day's errands. Or even what to wear. This is not like me.

What is it? 

True, we had a house guest for a few days, so I drifted away from my regular routines, but then why couldn't I give full attention to the top priorities on my To Do list once the sheets on the guest room bed had been changed?

True, I was in charge of an event at church earlier this week, but planning for that was not difficult and all went well.

True, I am in a new phase with my book. I have been requested submit a book proposal to a publisher and writing a synopsis and chapter summaries presents a new challenge, but I know I can figure out how to do that.

Is it spring, the change of seasons? 

I am a winter person and miss the wrapped coziness of winter and am never as ready for spring's openness and energy as most everyone else seems to be. And yet, I am happy to resume daily walks without dodging ice and snow. 

I head out the front door eagerly these cool mornings to stretch my legs and my heart, but doing that means adjusting my normal routine. Should I walk first and then return to the garret for meditation time? Or the reverse? Do I take a shower right after my walk or after meditation? And then half the morning is already gone! I might as well do some errands then and devote the full afternoon for writing, I think to myself. So far that hasn't worked very well.

This is transition time, and although every year involves the same season to season transitions, some times I feel more tentative about the changes. That, of course, is an invitation for prayer, an invitation to listen to the promptings of my heart, where I feel unfinished and where I feel stretched. What is growing and what needs to be nurtured even a bit more?

Soon I will be in a spring routine that both honors the season of the year and the season of my life. I have done this before, and I know I can do it again.

            Come! Come encourage what needs to be born in us.
            Draw us out of winter's nurturing womb.
            Teach us to believe in our unopened buds.
            Accompany us into a world starved for new life.
            O Come! ...

            Come! Come laugh us out of our rigidity
            Lighten hearts grown weary with anxiety.
            Send us out to the meadows to play like a child.
            Rise up in our souls with lighthearted joy.
            O Come!
                                            Joyce Rupp

An Invitation
What are you noticing about yourself this spring? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Pieces of Myself: Tuesday's Reflection

I recently celebrated my 69th birthday and on my birthday my father always says, "I remember the day you were born so well." When he says that, I hear whispers of God's voice, "Nancy Lee Jensen Agneberg, you are my beloved  child, and I remember the day you were born. I am with you always." 

When I was born, hospitals made bead identification bracelets for a baby's tiny wrist. So much more charming than the plastic, stiff ones used today. Many years ago I asked our daughter to restring mine, so I could wear it on my now thick wrist. Lately, I have started wearing it again, not just as a reminder of who I am, but each bead feels like a piece of myself. Pieces I keep encountering wherever I go. 

When I drove to Madison not long ago to visit some friends, chunks of time and memories swirled around me. 

My driving day was rainy and cool, but the countryside was lime green and fluffy and baby animals dotted the fields. I got off I94 as soon as I could and drove back roads to one of my favorite destinations, Arcadia Bookstore in Spring Green. I allowed myself a half hour to shop and when I brought my stack to the counter and told her my time limit, she said, "I wish you could stay an hour." Yes, I did major damage! But that is another story. 

During each part of the journey, I met pieces of myself. One piece seemed to reveal another. I remembered so many of our drives in that area--quiet, small towns, and perfectly perched farmhouses, fields eager for planting, vistas that stretched beyond our imagination. I thought not only about homes and places where we have lived and what that time of our life was like, but also homes where we could have made a life for ourselves as well, if we had taken another route.

I not only remembered what was, but in an odd way I remembered what could just as easily have been. Those are pieces of myself, too.  Pieces that somehow fit together in the person I am now, the life I live now.  Catching glimpses of myself through memory and imagination are like encounters with the Divine. 

An Invitation
Where have you recognized pieces of yourself recently. I would love to know. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Walking and Listening to the Inner Voice: Thursday's Reflection

How happy I am to walk out the door once again and go for a
morning walk. 

This morning I realized my walks focus on what I see. Pansies newly planted in front step pots, tulips, the occasional dead Christmas wreath on a front door (g-r-r-r-r!), a For Sale sign where there wasn't one a few days ago, dogs and their owners, children's toys scattered on the sidewalk, a rabbit or two or three, and an area of bluebells tumbling down a steep lawn. A feast for the eyes in my urban neighborhood.

Along with all there is to see, sounds swirl around me, too. Cars, buses, of course, but also the birds in springtime conversations, a dog barking from inside a house as I pass by, clusters of children chattering as they walk to school, and chapel bells on the University of St Thomas campus. 

And a voice within. The voice I sometimes recognize as the Divine breaking through all the stimulation around me. 

This morning I thought about the Gospel story of two of the disciples walking to Emmaus. Jesus joined them, but they didn't recognize him. The text says "their eyes were kept from recognizing him." I suspect their ears were closed, too. What would have happened if the disciples entered this time as a walking meditation? Would their eyes and ears opened to the wonders around them? Would they have "heard" Jesus and recognized the movement of the divine in their hearts? 

The disciples on the road to Emmaus told the "stranger" the gossip of the day, chitter-chattering along the way, and Jesus, still unknown to them, offered them new insights. Still, they did not hear. 

As I walked, feeling the uneven sidewalk beneath my feet, I paid attention to my breath, to the in and out of my breath. Gradually, I felt unidentified thoughts release their hold on me, leaving space for a quiet voice. A voice just waiting for some time with me. 

I was surprised by the question that rose in my heart, and I admit I  attempted to drop it into a hedge as I passed by, but the voice was persistent. "Hear me. Recognize me. Be with me." 

When I arrived home, I knew I had been on an unexpected journey-one that is just beginning, perhaps, and one that has an unknown destination, and one that will require many more steps. Who knew? I thought I was just going for a walk. 

An Invitation
Do you practice walking meditation? Does your inner voice, the voice of the Divine, go with you? I would love to know. 

The Long Road Turns to Joy, A Guide to Walking Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

New Neighbors: Tuesday's Reflection

Saturday was move-in day for our new neighbors, who appear to be 
a young couple with one child and another on the way. Yes, I have been watching. Some would say "snooping," but I prefer "being aware." Our snug gives us the best view of neighborhood activity.

The house had been on the market for some time, and finally, the right people, the right time, and the right house became the right match. 

I thought about our many move-in days over the years. Exciting and exhausting both. My goal on each of our move-in days was to make our beds and hang towels in the bathrooms. Once we had a place to sleep we were on our way to being home. I wonder how they all slept that first night.

When our daughter Kate was two, we moved into the house where we lived for eighteen years.  We moved there on a bitterly cold January day and like our new neighbors, we moved ourselves with help from family. All our plants died as they were transported from our small bungalow not far away into a big, drafty 1906 Victorian. But our excitement kept our hearts warm, and we knew we were at the beginning of the next stage of our lives.

At the end of the day when we collapsed in our living room, the doorbell rang. A neighbor stood on the front porch, introduced himself, and handed over a bottle of Bailey's Irish Creme. Now that is what I call a welcome! We were delighted with the gift, but what was more important was the feeling of being welcomed. 

A few years later a new governor of Minnesota was elected and moved into the Governor's Mansion just a few blocks away from our house. Kate, who was 4 or so at the time, said, "Mommy, when are we going to take cookies to the new family?" I was a bit puzzled by the question because we didn't have any new neighbors on our block just then. I asked her to explain, and she reminded me that the governor was a new neighbor, too, "and we always bring cookies when someone new moves in."

So, we made cookies and we walked up the to mansion and rang the bell outside the big iron gate. A security guard came to the gate, and we told him our mission. He took the cookies and said he would see that the governor received them. I don't know if he did or not, but Kate was satisfied. 

 We have been welcomed warmly when we have moved into a different house, but other times our appearance did not seem to have even been noted. Each move, however, has taught us something about the gift of hospitality, whether it has been extended to us or not.

This week I will make a loaf of zucchini or banana bread or maybe some muffins or cookies, and I will walk across the street and ring the doorbell of our new neighbors. "Hi, my name is Nancy, and we are so happy you have moved here." 

Sometimes our new neighbors look like us. But sometimes our new neighbors, whether they actually move onto our block or not, seem different from us, and it may not be as comfortable to welcome them, but they need our gift of hospitality, too. I hope I remember that lesson everyday wherever I am. Not just on my block. 

            Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,
            for by doing that some have entertained angels 
            knowing it. 
                                     Hebrews 13:2

An Invitation
When have you experienced the gift of hospitality and when did you last extend a welcome?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Processions: Tuesday's Reflection

On Easter Sunday our 14 year old granddaughter Maren was one of the acolytes at the first service. She is tall and poised and always brings a level of confidence and assurance to whatever she does, even if she doesn't feel that way. Obviously, I am proud of her, and what is more, even if she weren't my granddaughter, I would notice her and want to know her. 

She is one of my teachers, and on Easter Sunday she taught me without knowing it about processionals. 

Processions are marches with some degree of pageantry. Think of wedding processions, for example. Or think of a funeral where the casket is carried forth from the back of a place of worship to the front. Those in the procession are individual units and have a role and are expected to perform their role with awareness, dignity, and yes, confidence. At the same time each person in the procession is part of a whole, and that whole moves forward together, passing those who have gathered to honor or celebrate or pay tribute. 

My eyes were drawn to Maren, but the procession was not about her. The qualities she brought to her task that morning, however, reminded me why I was there. We had lived through the Lenten season and Holy Week one more time and now I was there to rejoice in the Easter message. I was there to continue a tradition, to deepen my understanding of  the good news I cherish and believe, and to carry that into the world. I have a role, but I am also a part of the whole. 

Somehow seeing Maren in the middle of the procession, doing her part, reminded me that each of us is a component of the great procession. 

NOTE: I am taking a day off and won't post on Thursday, April 27. I will be back on Tuesday, May 2. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Daffodils from a Friend: Thursday's Post

A friend brought me these daffodils Sunday morning. 

Our front door was open, and I saw her coming up our walk. She was holding a bouquet of daffodils tightly in her hand, and she was beaming. Her smile was as sunny as the yellow of the flowers, but seeing her made me want to cry. 

My friend has a progressive degenerative neurological disease, and each time we see her, we notice changes in her behavior and abilities. 

Her husband and family and friends are adapting their lives to meet her needs, and along the way there are many losses. The outlook is daunting, but for her there are daffodils growing in her yard. 

           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. 

An Invitation
What is it you want and need to do before the daffodils are gone? I would love to know. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

In my 70th Year: Tuesday's Reflection

Tuesday's Post --A Day Late. A sign of Aging???

I celebrated my 69th birthday this past week, and now I am in my 70th year.

How is that possible? 

Do I feel 69? Do I look 69? (Don't answer that, my ego, says.)

On Friday I attended a monthly writing session conducted by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew at Wisdom Ways. The focus was on questions, and she opened the session with a time for silence. "Notice what questions arise within you."

First, I was bombarded with questions about my work. Will I find an agent? Will I find a publisher? Will my book become a reality? What else do I want to write? 

But then I settled more into the quiet, the space of the moment, and the outer voices and concerns and prompts eased away. 

How do I fully live and love in my elder years? 

In a way this has been my question to myself all along, no matter my age. How do I live in the present moment? How do I live fully regardless of where I live? Oh how I feel? How do I bridge the current transition time without wishing for what was, what might have been? How do I face the unknowns with an open heart? 

One of my birthday presents was Anne Lamott's new book, Hallelujah Anyway, Rediscovering Mercy, and early in the book she quotes Rilke, "I want to unfold. I don't want to stay folded anywhere, because where I am folded, there I am a lie." Lamott uses the phrase "the great unfolding."

That's it, isn't it? To live and love fully, we need to unfold. Unfolded we are open. Unfolded we allow in new energy, new expanse, new vistas. New awareness of where we have been and perhaps, new acceptance of who and where we are on this path.

A dear friend who doesn't turn 69 till the fall emailed me on my birthday encouraging me to be a "fearless leader" in this aging process. I don't know exactly what that means, for like everyone else I am just doing my best to put one foot in front of the other, but what I do know is that this is the time I have--whether it is one more day or many more years. 

This is the time to unfold. 

An Invitation
How do you intend to live fully right now? I would love to know. 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Wisdom in the Room: Thursday's Reflection

For the last couple days my garret has been in a state of controlled 
chaos. Instead of jumping immediately into my next writing tasks after the pitch conference, I decided it was time to clean my working space. To the casual observer, the garret appeared neat and orderly, but I could feel the dust bunnies under the bookshelves planning an invasion. "Today when she least expects it, let's converge and ooze out onto the open floor space. Let's force a confrontation."

Grabbing my Swiffer, I took the offensive position. I emptied each shelf and dusted over, under, around before returning each stack of books in the correct alphabetical or subject order. The dust bunny brigade was defeated, and I declared the battle won. 

 Of course, temptation hovered throughout this process. How easy it would have been to be seduced by all the spiritual wisdom in the room. 

Books I want to reread.

Books used to plan a retreat or class.

Books by authors I have met or heard speak.

Books that were just what I needed at a specific time in my life.

Books that show my evolution as a spiritual director.

Books that trace my spiritual life.

How easy it would have been to sit with Thomas Merton or Joan Chittister or John O'Donohue or Elizabeth Johnson today. How enticing it would have been to start reading one of the books waiting patiently for me. Books such as A Faithful Farewell, Living Your Last Chapter with Love by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre or Wisdom of the Body, A Contemplative Journey to Wholeness for Women by Christine Valters Painter. 

Almost bewitched, I used my broom to break the spell and returned each stack to their proper place. Marcus Borg next to Joan Borysenko and Phyllis Tickle rubbing covers with Krista Tippett

Frankly, I deserve a medal for my valor. I was not diverted from the  objective. The garret is now clean, and I am ready to return to my day to day hands-on-the- keyboard tasks, for I am surrounded by so much wisdom. 

An Invitation
How aware are you of the wisdom in your room? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Pitch Conference: Tuesday's Reflection

"The soul holds expectations lightly and is not attached to the 
outcome. The soul takes her time, embraces the slow ripening of things, and savors what is to be learned from the process."

                       Christine Valters Paintner

These are the words I prayed as I prepared for the Pitch Conference at The Loft this past weekend. 

This conference was an opportunity to meet with literary agents and pitch your book project. Each writer-agent session was only eight minutes, and each writer was paired with three agents during the two-days. The hope is that an agent will ask you to send them more information, including all or part of your manuscript. Along with the speed dating, participants attended panel discussions and workshops and, of course, had informal conversations with other writers. 

The conference was intense, informative, and exhausting. 

Encouraging and helpful.

No, none of the three agents with whom I met asked me to send them a query letter or parts of my book. My book is a spiritual memoir, and none of the agents at the conference represent that genre, although many do represent memoir. Not receiving an invitation for further contact was not a surprise, so why did I feel so encouraged?

Two of the three agents were complimentary of both the content of my pitch and my delivery and all three gave me concrete next steps to take. One of the agents indicated that if spiritual memoir was something she felt she could represent well, she would be interested in my book. That sent me soaring! In my heart and mind that was a positive outcome indeed.

I worked diligently to prepare for this conference. I read lots of material about pitches and incorporated suggestions into my pitch. I attended a pitch practice session with an editor, which was incredibly helpful. My writing group  made strong suggestions, too. I memorized my 4 minute pitch and practiced it carefully, in order to be at ease and conversational. 

All those things were important, but even more important was entering the time and space with a light and open heart, rather than a tight grip. My goal was to detach from a specific outcome and instead, welcome this opportunity to grow. 

One more note: Towards the end of the conference another writer asked me how my agent meetings had gone, and I told her how encouraged I was. She assumed that meant the agents requested material from me, and I explained briefly why I was encouraged. She then attempted to reassure me and offered suggestions of what I should do, including not to be discouraged. Clearly, she didn't believe me. 

At first, I doubted myself. Maybe I shouldn't feel so positive about my agent interactions. Maybe I am naive. Maybe I am covering up disappointment. Nope. I know what I feel. I know what happened in my pitch sessions. 

I know there is room for more than one positive outcome. 

Thanks to all of you, by the way, who have been so supportive of this step on my writing pilgrimage. I took your support with me. 

And now it is back to work. 

An Invitation
Are you currently holding on tightly to some expectation or outcome? I would love to know.  

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Time to Leave the Garret: Thursday's Reflection

I spent the winter in my office garret.

No, I wasn't being punished, although on difficult writing days, I wondered. I set  goals for myself and that meant tucking up in the garret for hours every day. Even weekends.

My day in the garret began with morning meditation and prayer time, followed by reading the paper and other emails online. 

Then after a shower and getting dressed I returned to work at my desk. Some days I met with spiritual direction clients or did errands or even occasionally left to do something fun, something nongoal oriented, like meeting a friend for lunch. But many days I pretended a gate at the bottom of the stairs was locked, and I couldn't get out till it was time to fix dinner. 

Since Bruce's desk is in the lower level, we sometimes texted each other with a question, but for the most part we only met briefly during the day in the kitchen. And then I climbed the stairs back up to the garret.

Well, it is time to leave the garret. 

I have basically met my winter goals, which culminate tomorrow when I attend the pitch conference. At the conference I will meet with three agents and in each eight minute session I will pitch my book. I am not attached to the outcome and know the chances of an agent showing interest is not likely, but the experience will be a great learning experience, and besides this was one of my goals. 

While I still have a great deal to do to "finish" my book and to find an agent or publisher, I know it is time to balance garret time with other aspects of my life. 

And so what will I do when I leave the garret? 

I have avoided making that list, but, of course, it is percolating in my head. Instead, I am going to take some time off the rest of this month. I am going to see what attracts me, where I feel like spending time and energy and with whom. I know I will continue to work on my book, but shorter writing projects appeal, too. I know I want to resume daily walking--outside, instead of up and down the garret stairs. I know I will participate in a variety of church and community opportunities, and I know I will connect with family and friends. But I also look forward to sitting in the side garden, which we call "Paris," and read. Here I go making a list!!!! 

For now leaving the garret is enough. 

An Invitation
What do you need to leave? A place? A task? An obligation? An attitude? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Spring Rain: Tuesday's Post

Yesterday a light rain broke through the grey. I sat at my desk in the garret and the light tapping on the roof accompanied the tapping of my fingers on the keyboard. A soothing sound, but unfortunately, the shower only lasted a few minutes. 

I realize other parts of the country would appreciate some dryer days, but after our snowless winter, we need the rain. We need the refreshing. Our lawns are waiting for an excuse to turn green, and the tulips and daffodils are eager to make an appearance. They apparently need to be coaxed into further action, greater revelation. 

I found my own version of refreshment and followed the invitation of spring as I washed bedding and replaced winter quilts and blankets with a brighter, lighter, happier look. I ironed the duvet cover and the antique white coverlet and even the white airy curtains to replace the cozy grey velvet ones. I wrestled the duvet into its cover, wondering why these covers don't open flat with buttons on one complete side. I was in and out of the laundry room and up and down the stairs frequently, accomplishing one step of the total task at a time. 

So often I can't see I have accomplished anything by the end of the day. When I spend the day writing, I may end up with less than I started--tossing paragraphs or even chapters aside. If I meet with a client, I pray our time together makes a difference, but I don't always know. If I bake, we eat it. When I make phone calls to my government officials, who knows if it makes a difference, a real difference. 

But today I can look in the bedroom and say, "Ah, look at what I did today." 

Today I can look out my window and know that the spring rain, when it comes, will make a difference. 

An Invitation
What do you do when you need to be refreshed? I would love to know. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Are Your Ready? Thursday's Reflection

      "Are you ready?" I asked Peter when I arrived at his house to take him to school. 
      "I'm ready," he answered, but then I noticed he wasn't wearing shoes. We both laughed.
      On the way to the car he told me he was going to be on the school patrol next year. He and his Mom talked about a plan for him to walk to school early with a friend. "I'll need a house key," he said.
      "You seem ready for that," I said.  
      "I'm ready," he responded confidently. 

Last Saturday I met with an editor to practice my book pitch. In a week I will attend a conference in which I have an opportunity to meet agents and pitch my book to them. Bruce asked me, "Are you ready?" I said I was ready, but I think I said it more to convince myself. 

In an email from a friend recently she mentioned she would soon be preparing for Passover, doing the major kitchen cleaning necessary to get ready for the holiday. 

I get ready for the day. I get ready to leave the house. I prepare for a spiritual direction client appointment. I go to the grocery store so I can get what I need to fix dinner. So much of the day is in some stage of preparation it seems.

Now that I am in the Third Chapter of my life, "getting ready" has a new dimension. If in the past I could ignore the certainty of my own mortality, that is no longer possible.

The authors of The Spirituality of Age, A Seekers Guide to Growing Older, Robert L. Weber and Carol Osborn write that this stage of life is a  a time to accomplish inner freedom:
                    to find the courage and strength to walk a path
                    through the ebbing tide of the changes in our
                    lives and times by deepening our spirituality,
                    dismantling the illusions of escape, and, thereby,
                    strengthening ourselves for the challenges ahead.

That's a lot to ask, but I want to be ready. 

An Invitation
What are you doing to be ready? I would love to know. 


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Lessons in Glass: Tuesday's Reflection

Our church, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in St Paul, MN has gorgeous stained glass windows, and thanks to member Martha Wegner, who has been digging in the archives, we learned a great deal about them this past weekend. 

The windows line both the main sanctuary and the side chapel, but there are also several smaller ones tucked in various locations, which I had never noticed. 

These windows are a visual reminder of what we are asked to do in this world as people of faith, as citizens of the world, as good neighbors. 

Granted, these windows, which date back to the 1950's, are not diverse or inclusive, but the message is simple and without qualifications. 

How you choose to exercise these tasks is up to you. Perhaps you do these good works through your community of faith, a wide variety of non-profit organizations, our schools or in individual acts of kindness. Perhaps you are showing up, speaking up to make sure our government does not repeal its responsibilities. 

Thanks for all you do. 

An Invitation
Are you being called in some way to be more of an active presence in the world? I would love to know. 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

An Appointment with God: Thursday's Reflection

Recently, a friend returned a book he had borrowed from me,

Encountering God, A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras by Diane Eck. I had forgotten he had borrowed it, but I was grateful to be re-introduced to it.

On the inside of the front cover I found some notes I had written when I heard Eck speak at Chautauqua in 2004. She said, " A multi-religious world is the only world we have," and "The time of not getting to know each other is over." 

How moved I was recently when I was at Lutheran Social Service's Center for Changing Lives to see a prayer room in the building. When our guide offered to show it to us, I imagined seeing a lovely chapel with a stained glass window and maybe a small altar and a church pew where I could sit and pray. How quickly my mind goes to what I know.

Instead, this was a small room equipped with a tub-like area where a  person of the Islamic faith could sit easily and wash before prayer. Muslims pray five times a day and before each of those prayer times they wash their face, hands, arms, and feet. Prayer is one of the Five Pillars of Islam and this washing ritual, called Wudu, is preparation for an appointment with God.  

On one of the walls was a niche or mihrab which indicates the direction of Mecca. The room was large enough to open a prayer mat on the floor and for an individual to perform the proscribed series of movements, standing, bowing, kneeling on the ground, touching the ground with one's forehead and sitting. A holy place.

I have been in a mosque, but that was a long time ago and not in the United States. I was so moved to see this prayer room where Muslims could pray in a building owned by Lutherans. 

In the inside cover of Eck's book I had written some definitions.

An exclusivist believes there is only one faith, one true God.

An inclusivist recognizes the "fullness" of God which includes the "other, somewhat less adequate conception."

A pluralist acknowledges there is only one God who transcends complete comprehension. A pluralist engages with diversity--not just to be tolerant, but pursues active understanding. This is the language of dialogue. 

I don't know how you would define yourself--exclusivist, inclusivity, or pluralist--or if those terms have any meaning for you, but I firmly believe this is a time when we must get to know each other. And a major part of that is getting to know each other's God.

Now when I sit in prayer in the morning I imagine someone entering that solitary space in the Lutheran Social Services building to pray. I think about them praying to the very same God who receives my prayers. We are all embraced by God. I pray we remember that and live that prayer. 

An Invitation
What are you doing to expand your view of God? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Home Alone: Tuesday's Reflection

Because we moved so often when I was a child, I was often alone. Summers were lonely before starting school in a new place, and making new friends was not easy for this introvert. I was often alone and lonely, but I learned how to be alone, how to be comfortable with myself. 

Over the years, however, I grew to value being alone, and along the way, I developed my contemplative nature. Time to be alone became essential. 

It is true I spend much of my day working alone in my garret space, but it is rare I am alone in the house overnight. Now don't get me wrong, I am not complaining. For almost the first year of our return to Minnesota, Bruce commuted between here and Madison. He came home late Thursday night and returned to Madison Sunday afternoons. We were thrilled when that pattern ended, and he started working long-distance from his desk in the lower level. 

Still, sometimes it is nice to have a span of alone time. 

Last Thursday Bruce drove with our daughter and grands to Cleveland to visit our son and daughter-in-love. I elected to stay home--not because I craved alone time, but because I am in the midst of a consuming writing project. The decision was not an easy one, but it felt necessary. And wise. And, I accomplished so much. 

I felt great release. I could eat when I wanted to and what I wanted to and not think about planning a meal. I could go to bed and get up on my own schedule. When I woke up in the middle of the night, I could turn on the light and read until I felt ready to sleep again. I could follow my own whims. All without bothering anyone else. 

I turn 69 in a few weeks and more and more am aware of both the gifts and the challenges of being older. This is a time when many of us are more alone than we have been in our younger years. If we are married, we may face the loss of a spouse. Friends die or move away to be closer to family. Our ability to be out and about with the ease of earlier years decreases for a variety of years.

Richard Morgan calls this time "solitary refinement," and encourages us to use this time of our lives "to be alone with God, for what else matters in these years and in the years to come?" 

Solitude allows us to be with ourselves, to listen with the ears of our heart, to discover what we know, what we question, what is unspoken within, what needs to be forgiven. 

Solitude helps us "find the deep, calm place that makes aging such a serene part of life," Says Joan Chittister. 

Solitude helps us let go of what is not necessary, of what impedes our relationship with God. Solitude moves us towards compassion for ourselves and others. Solitude clears the space. 

Today is Tuesday and my family arrives home today, and I am ready. More than ready. I have missed them and I am eager to hear all the details of their time with Geof and Cricket. 

But I am also grateful for the touches of solitude. 

An Invitation

How comfortable are you being alone? Do you seek solitude? I would love to know. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Just Talking: Thursday's Reflection

 Last week I was part of a group from our church who attended an Immersion Experience at Lutheran Social Service's Center for Changing Lives. Staff members informed us about a variety of programs and ways we could be involved. We also helped serve a meal, which is offered free every Thursday. To anyone. No questions asked. No qualifications. No forms to fill out. Just come and you will be served.

I sat at the welcome table, greeting each guest, asking them to sign in. I looked at their hands. I looked into their eyes. I told them I was glad they were here. "Enjoy," I said, several times.

When it was my turn to eat, I sat next to a woman who lived in the neighborhood. She was talkative and was interested in what brought me to the center. After briefly explaining why I was there, I  I intended to ask her what brought her there, but she launched into a different topic. 

She told me about receiving a new cell phone and going to a class at the library to learn how to use it, and how grateful she was. She told me she no longer owned a television, but that meant she could read more. We talked books and movies. We had a light and friendly conversation. 

As a spiritual director I believe in going deeper. I try to ask questions to help my directees understand more about themselves and the movement of God in their lives. I believe in the power of sharing key stories and listening below the surface. 

When it was time to say goodbye, I wondered if I should have been more probing, if I should have invited her to tell me her story. Did I miss an opportunity to be a listening ear for her? Did I miss a chance to learn something about what it means to be poor and aging in this country? Should I have tried to connect on a deeper level?

Here's what I think. Sometimes what is most authentic is to just be two people together, enjoying a meal of roast chicken and salad and fruit. Sometimes the most human thing we can do is have a pleasant conversation. Two women who both love books and movies. 

An Invitation
When was the last time you talked with a stranger? What did you learn? About that person? About yourself? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Time-Out: Tuesday's Reflection

During the toddler years, a time-out was often necessary. 
For both the child and the parent. 

A time to cool off, regroup, restore, return to one's better self. 

I recall saying, firmly, but I hope not with anger in my voice, "I need you to go to your room for a time-out. Now." Sometimes I set the kitchen timer to eliminate the question, "Can I come out now?"

More often than not the time-out solved the problem, eased the tension, and lightened the mood, and ended with hugs.

If you read my last post, you know I am working diligently on the manuscript of my spiritual memoir. I spend many hours of the day at my desk working on it, but sometimes I need a time-out. When I sit staring at the laptop screen or when I reread a sentence over and over again or when 5 minutes playing solitaire turns into 10 or 15, I know it is time for a time-out. I am no longer operating from my best writing self. 

It is time for a time-out. 

But here's the trick. To really be a time-out, what you do needs to be nurturing and not just a turn to another task awaiting your attention. In other words, cleaning the bathroom, in most cases, is not the best time-out. 

My go-to rest stop most often is reading something purely for pleasure. Not for book group. Not for meditation. Not as part of research for what I am writing. Not to become better informed about all the issues of the day that weigh heavily on my heart. 

The best companion on my solitary time-outs is a good book, of course. Right now I am reading Willa Cather's The Song of The Lark, and I love its leisurely pace, the richness of description, and the depth of her characters. But I am just as apt to enjoy a new home decor magazine or savor the latest issue of Bella Grace.

Sometimes, however, a time-out means physically leaving the house--and I don't mean heading to the grocery store. A walk. A drive through a neighborhood of interesting houses. Lunch at a new spot. I prescribe a time-out for myself not to check something off the list, but to touch something inside that feels stale or dull or weary. 

When I suspect I need a time-out, I ask myself, "Why do you think a time-out would be a good idea right now?" 

Sometimes my answer reveals I am avoiding something or feeling fearful or a lack of self-confidence. It is at those times I need to dig in more and face the demon. But sometimes my neck hurts and I realize I forgot to eat lunch and I am just at a good place to stop working.

That's when I blow my virtual noon time whistle and retreat to a time-out. 

An Invitation
How do you know you need a time-out and what do you do? I would love to know. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Revising My Spiritual Memoir: Thursday's Reflection

In case anyone is wondering where I am, you can find me at my desk in the garret. The majority of my waking hours these days is focused on working on my manuscript, tentatively titled Finding Home: Steps on a Pilgrimage. 

For over two years I have been working on this book, piece by piece, chapter by chapter. Sometimes with enthusiasm. Sometimes driven. Sometimes just because I said I would. Writing is like that.

Finally, I have the draft of a full manuscript, and that means it is time to revise. Revise, revise, revise. Fortunately, I enjoy the process of revision.

Here's the catch. Early in April I will attend a pitch conference. At this conference I will meet with three different agents for  eight minutes each and in that time I will "pitch" my book. I have written my pitch and am practicing and refining it daily. So far so good.

What if one of the agents shows an interest in my book? (Be still my heart!) If that happens, I need to be prepared to send them whatever they request: a chapter or two, a book proposal, the full manuscript. Who knows! 

That's why I am at my desk all day, everyday.

Of course, life continues, no matter how many more chapters I need to revise.

At the beginning of the year I was drawn to these words, "Sacred Yes. Sacred No." Words of discernment. 

When I feel drawn away from my desk, is that distraction or a need for a nurturing break?
How do I balance other demands and interests and connections?
When do I cross the line from commitment to obsession?
When is life in the garret a protection from or excuse for avoiding something I don't want to do?
When is a choice life-enhancing and when is it energy-depleting?

Here's what I am learning. The process of discernment, which is a process of listening to the divine within, doesn't just apply to the big decisions, such as changing jobs or moving to a different location, but we can learn to discern, to listen, whenever a choice, a question, a yearning, big or small, appears in our life. 

Do I have lunch with a friend today? Sacred yes? Sacred no?
Do I leave the garret and move into the snug, put up my feet and read? Sacred yes? Sacred no?
Do I start my day with my normal meditation process? Sacred Yes? Sacred No?
Do I make a phone call to my senators supporting their efforts and registering my concerns? Sacred Yes? Sacred No?

You get the idea. 

               Consider an area of your life needing a decision.
               Ask yourself, "What do I know deep inside me
               that relates to this decision, even if I can't explain
               it? What do I already know about myself and 
               about the situation I am in that I need to pay 
               attention to here?"
                                              Nancy Bieber

An Invitation
What needs discernment in your life? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Waking Up: Tuesday's Reflection

Some mornings I need more than one wake up call.

I fell asleep easily after a wonderful evening with friends, but then was awake for a couple hours as Sunday became Monday. Of course, that meant when my gentle alarm sounded at 6:30, I was reluctant to get out of bed. I resisted for 45 minutes. 

Had I forgotten how much I need to do today? How will I meet the deadlines I have set for myself? Oooh, that "to do" list--both a blessing and a rebuke in my life. 

Even though I am up later than intended, however, I make the bed and go up the stairs to the garret for my morning meditation time, and, of course, what awaits me is exactly what I need.

First, from Joyce Rupp, "I awaken to what sleeps in me."

What sleeps in me? 

My true self, my essence, the person I was created to be. 
A willingness to rest in the embrace of God. 
Expansive love. 
More growth and openness. 

My job is to wake up.

Second, I start reading a new book, The Grace in Living, Recognize It, Trust It, Abide In It by Kathleen Dowling Singh and in the introduction I read this phrase, "exploration of our own path of awakening." She suggests creating a timeline of our life on which we mark "grace points," to indicate a "significant moment of healing, realization, or transformative shift." 

Moments of awakening to what sleeps in me. 

After writing in my journal about the synchronicity in these passages in different books, I decide to read a couple pages in a book about writing, Writing Toward Home, Tales and Lessons to Find Your Way by Georgia Heard. She quotes Matthew Fox, "Thou shalt fall in love at least three times a day."

In other words, WAKE UP!     

An Invitation
What sleeps in you and what do you need, in order to wake up? I would love to know.   

Kathleen Dowling Singh
Joyce Rupp
Georgia Heard

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Relieving My Agitation: Thursday's Reflection

I was more than unusually tired, exhausted, and even the bedtime preparation to finally peel back the covers and ease into bed seemed like too much. At the same time, however, I was agitated. 

The day had been full, but not unusually so. I did some light cleaning in the morning before working at my desk for a couple hours. My writing group met in the afternoon, and the conversation and feedback was rich, stimulating, and helpful. Supper was leftovers. Easy. I ironed. Four of Bruce's shirts and three of my blouses. Easy. 

We watched the PBS' News Hour, and even started to watch the State of the Union message, but both of us realized we just couldn't do it. We switched to a favorite HGTV show, not even feeling 

I then announced I was going to bed, but instead I wandered back up to my garret and did a bit of this and that. I felt the agitation building. I thought about cleaning off the top of my desk or reading emails stacked in my inbox. I thought about sitting with my journal and reflecting on this current agitation. Instead, I unplugged the string of white lights around the window and returned to the first floor. 

What I most needed was waiting for me on my bedside table. 
O'Pioneers!, Willa Cather's second novel.

Earlier this year I read an article in the current bookWomen by Barbara Courtney who had decided to read each of Cather's twelve novels. That idea resonated with me, and I immediately ordered the first three, Alexander's Bridge, O'Pioneers! and The Song of the Lark, all in lovely Vintage Classics editions. 

I read the first novel, but then read three current novels, all important, well-reviewed, highly discussable novels. Loud books, in a way. Books I could say I was glad I had read, but not books that soothed my soul or prepared me for rest. 

I'm sure there are lessons to be learned in O'Pioneers! as well, but for a few brief moments I needed the expanse of a prairie setting. I needed landscape to be more important than the rights and wrongs of human actions. I needed the beauty of words more than the way words can prod and push and pull. 

I read
               That evening, after she had washed the supper
               dishes, Alexandra sat down on the kitchen doorstep,
               while her mother was mixing the bread. It was a still,
               deep-breathing summer night, full of the smell of the
               hay-fields. Sounds of laughter and splashing came up
               from the pasture, and when the moon rose rapidly 
               above the the bare rim of the prairie, the pond 
               glittered like polished metal, and she could see the 
               flash of white bodies as the boys ran about the edge, 
               or jumped into the water. Alexandra watched the
               shimmering pool dreamily...  p. 24

And I turned out the light. 

An Invitation
What do you do when you feel agitated? I would love to know.