Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Loss of a Pet: Tuesday's Reflection

 Some days are just sad.  

True, there are reasons to be sad most days. The news of deaths in Somalia and ongoing losses in Puerto Rico and California and everywhere where there is suffering from natural disasters or manmade violence makes us sad. 
Other things make us sad, too. Disappointments in our work or at school. Regrets about what we now realize we could have done, perhaps should have done. 

But today in our family we are sad because Ralph, who belonged to our daughter and her family, has come to the end of his life. He was a rescue dog, about fifteen years old, and was a gentle companion with a sweet nature. Everyone in the neighborhood knew Ralph because his favorite spot was the front yard where he received pats and rubs from many who passed by. None of us were ready for this loss, but I suspect Ralph was. 

And so the family said a reluctant good bye, and now is a time to be sad. 

Marianne Williamson in her book Everyday Grace, Having Hope, Finding Forgiveness, and Making Miracles retells an old Buddhist story about a monk who cried at his master's grave.  He was asked why he was crying. Wasn't he enlightened? He responded, "Because I am sad." 

In order to transcend our grief, we need to feel it. "No situation can be transformed until it is accepted as it is." 

But some days it is too early to see glimpses of what we are to learn from our sadness, even if it is the gift of becoming more compassionate to others in their grief. Some days are just sad. Some days we are just meant to be sad. 

An Invitation
What has made you sad recently? Did you allow yourself to be sad? I would love to know. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Right Words: Thursday's Reflection

How often do just the right words land in front of you? "Just what I need" words.

This week that seems to be the case for me.

          Use what you have, use what the
          world gives you. Use the first day
          of fall: bright flame before 
          winter's deadness; harvest; 
          orange, gold amber cool nights 
          and the smell of fire. Our tree-
          lined streets are set ablaze, 
          our kitchens filled with the smells of nostalgia: apples
          bubbling into sauce, roasting squash, cinnamon, nutmeg, 
          cider, warmth itself. The leaves as they spark into 
          wild color just before they die are the world's oldest 
          performance art, and everything we see is celebrating one 
          last violently hued hurrah before the black and white
          silence of winter.
                                          Shauna Niequist

Now, I love fall and I love winter too, and rejoice in the glories of both seasons, but this quotation reminds me that whatever the season, I have what I need, as long as I am awake to what is around me and am open to use what the world offers. 

            I press on toward the goal for the prize of the
            heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
                                            Philippians 3:14

Re-entering the work of revising my manuscript has been difficult (!) since returning from our road trip, but these words, which concluded the reading of the First Lesson on Sunday, reminded me that my goal of writing a spiritual memoir is a response to the call of God. Later that day I heard writer, teacher, and writing coach, Elizabeth Jarret Andrew say "God continues to create through my life," and I felt myself open again to this long and complicated and often arduous process. 

              ...our own path is for us alone to explore. We have
              gifts to offer that no one else can offer in quite the
              same way and so we are called for our own sakes and
              for the sake of the world. The more we awaken to our
              deep self (the place within where God dwells), the 
              more we bring that to the collective energy of 
              awakening consciousness of our fragile planet.
                                           Christina Valters Paintner

These words encourage me to examine the energies I may be neglecting to share with others and also to take time to use my energy in ways that both nurture the person I was created to be and to support the people and causes that matter most to me. 

               Each of us is an artist of our days; the greater 
               our integrity and awareness, the more original
               and creative our time will become.
                                            John O'Donohue

Yes, I know this to be true. 

Teachers and lessons, encouragement and clarity abound if we open to and integrate them. I know this to be true, too.

An Invitation
What words have spoken to you recently. I would love to know. 


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Re-Entry Notes: Tuesday's Reflection

What's your routine when you return home after being on vacation 
for days or even weeks? After a twelve day road trip to attend a niece's wedding in Vermont and also spend times with our kids in Cleveland and friends in the Boston area, we returned home early last week. I am basically a homebody and oh, how wonderful it was to cross the threshold of our sweet little house.

My husband and I both do well with the initial re-entry tasks: unloading the car, unpacking our bags and treasures acquired along the way, doing the laundry, sorting the mail and paying bills. That first afternoon I even went grocery shopping. 

But then the resettlement slowed down. 

During my morning meditation time, which had been hit and miss during our time away, my mind wandered to the back roads we had travelled: the fields of sunflowers in Indiana, the white steepled churches nestled in hills of small towns, the hints of fall color, the front porches of farmhouses, the barns, somehow elegant in their architecture. And mums and pumpkins everywhere. 

I was more there than here. 

Plus, I thought about all the good conversations we had with loved ones: our son's new job and also development of his own design business (Both Feet Designs); our daughter-in-love's growing expertise and presence in her work; fill in the blanks conversations with many dear to us. And, of course, all the happy talk focusing on the bride and groom. 

A good time.

While on the trip I divorced myself from my laptop (brought it, but only opened it once) and Facebook and email, only checking occasionally to make sure there wasn't something that needed immediate attention. I have yet to return to Facebook.

But once home, it was time to resume writing in this blog.  I intended to write a new post for last Thursday, but that clearly did not happen. Instead of writing, I bought pumpkins and decorated for fall. I rearranged my closet, moving from summer to fall. I sat in the snug and read one of the many books I bought on the trip in two excellent independent bookstores (Concord Bookshop in Concord, MA, and Phoenix Bookstore in Rutland, VT). I wrote thank you notes and got out soup recipes. 

I was more there than here. 

Shortly before leaving on our trip I outlined a new structure for my book on my dryerase board, and I was eager to start the revision process. I assumed I could jump right back when I got home. Wrong! For several hours on two different afternoons last week I sat with my hands poised over the keyboard. I looked at notes about possible changes. I deleted a few words in an opening chapter and changed the tense from present to past, but that was it. I stared at the dry erase board. Nothing. 

Finally, I read a post in a writing blog I receive once a week from the author and teacher, Mary Carroll Moore.

            The book disappears from your consciousness after
            three days so you might not be able to spend the 
            next writing session actually moving forward. You
            may be spending half your time reacquainting 
            yourself with the book.

Duh! I had been unconnected from my book not for just three days, but for almost two weeks. "Give yourself a break, Nancy," I told myself. "This is going to take awhile."

Here's what occurs to me: not only did I need to reacquaint myself with my book, but after separation from home, I needed to reacquaint myself with my life here, my surroundings, my normal routines. I realize not everyone has that luxury, and I certainly remember the days when we returned from a vacation one day and the next day we were back to work. That is not true for my life now during these Third Chapter years. 

I can take my time. I can enjoy the re-entry process, as much as the time spent seeing new views and being with friends and family we don't see often enough. I can consciously integrate the gifts of those days into these first days back home.

I can be there and here at the same time. 

An Invitation
How do you handle re-entry? What is easy and what takes a bit more effort? I would love to know.  

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Spiritual Practices: Tuesday's Reflection

NOTE: I am going to take a brief break from posting in this blog. My plan is to begin posting again on Thursday, October 5, 2017. Watch this space!

I was the speaker at our church's adult forum this past Sunday. My topic was Spirituality 101. During the forum we wrestled with the meaning of spirituality and also explored the ways to engage with spiritual practices. We barely touched the surface, but I am grateful to be part of a community where questions like these are part of an ongoing conversation.

I suggested to the group that the essence of spirituality is the way you experience connection to the sacred aspect of life, the spirit of life. You might connect
                   To your own inner, creative core.
                   To other people.
                   To nature.
                   To God and to the faith we profess.

Or you may connect to any combination of the above. And your spiritual connection may change throughout your lifetime.

Thomas Hart, a spiritual writer and family therapist, suggests that  where the action of our life is, God is present and active with us. 

That means God is in the car pool with us when we take kids to school or at the kitchen sink when we wash dishes or when we collapse into a chair hoping to read a few pages in a good book before a nap overcomes us. It also means God is with us in the challenges, the big ones --caretaking an elderly loved one, facing a health crisis in ourselves, losing a job, becoming an empty nester, wondering what the purpose of our life is now that we no longer can do what we have always done. The list goes on. 

The key question is: How is God moving in my life right now? How and when do I feel and know the presence of God? 

These are spiritual questions. 

So much more I could say and perhaps I will as time goes on, but I want to close todays's post by quoting Anthony de Mello's take on spiritual practices.

          Is there anything I can do to make myself enlightened?
          As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning?
         Then what use are the spiritual exercises you prescribe?
         To make sure you are not asleep when the sun begins to rise.

An Invitation
What would it look like to live more spiritually right now? I would love to know. 


Thursday, September 14, 2017

One Never Knows: Thursday's Reflection

"What should I write about today?" I often have a number of ideas or possibilities when I sit down the day before I publish one of my posts. That was not the case this time, however, but I trusted that my morning meditation time or walk would bear some fruit.

I opened my Bible and read the reading assigned by the Brian McLaren's We Make the Road By Walking.

             Look at the birds of the air; 
            they neither sow nor reap 
            nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly 
            Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 
            And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to 
            your span of life." (Matthew 6: 26-27)

I sat with the familiar scripture and with the accompanying devotional material, and then I turned to the other book I am reading, Ripening Time, Inside Stories for Aging with Grace by Sherry Ruth Anderson. I read a section in which the author describes how she reaches out to touch her husband when he stops snoring during the night to see if he is still alive. And he does the same to her. She writes, 

              Death has begun to feel like a continual murmur, 
              an intimate consultation I do with the end point 
              that is coming. It's not something I talk about, but
              a kind of certainty is here now, making the time
              distinctly different from my middle age. p. 97

I had just finished reading those words when Bruce called up the stairs to me, saying there was an EMT vehicle and three police cars in front of our next door neighbor's house. I joined him outside, and we knew the news was not good when the EMT people left the house and the police stayed. 

 Our neighbor, a man of our age, had died. Apparently a heart attack. 

Later we delivered fruit and rolls for the gathered grieving family. We held our neighbor who is in that stunned, shocked place. She briefly told us the story she will repeat many times about finding him on the kitchen floor when she got up in the morning. 

I ache for her. 

This could be me. This could be you. 

Eventually, I returned to the garret and finished reading the chapter in the Anderson book. She ends the chapter with these words:

                  It's so important to contact the depth in ourselves
                  while we still can, find our connection with the 
                  universal ground. p. 103

One never knows.

An Invitation
What will you do today to live more openly, more compassionately, more authentically? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Noise: Tuesday's Reflection

I prefer silence to noise. 

That's not unusual for someone who considers herself a modern-day contemplative. 

I love my morning meditation time before most of the world is awake. I sit in the garret and pray and write and read and breathe and gradually enter the days. I do that against a background of silence. 

But I must say I enjoy the presence of some noise in my life these days. 

Our neighborhood seems to have come alive with the noise of children playing. I often hear people commiserating that children don't play outside anymore. Well, that is not the case on our block. During the hours between the end of the school day and bedtime, groups of kids call to each other, as they race down the sidewalk on bikes and scooters. Some of the older kids stand on both sides of the street and toss a football or baseball back and forth. I hear, "Red Light, Green Light" or "Red Rover, Red Rover send Tommy right over." Yes, kids still play those games. 

Sometimes I hear the sound of the newest resident on the block. Fiona was born in July, and occasionally I hear her crying. Instead of being bothered by her demands to be fed or changed or held, I love knowing there is new life present. A little girl who will one day join the sidewalk party. 

The other night I heard cheers coming from a crowd. Most likely it was from a football game at the local high school or one of the colleges in our area. The wind carried the sound right through our windows, and I hoped the home team was winning.

Much to my surprise, Sunday morning I even welcome the noise of happy chatting in the sanctuary before church starts. My desire has always been to sit quietly in meditation before the service's opening hymn, but I love how welcoming we are to each other and how eager we are to see and check in with one another.

Other sounds certainly are not as pleasurable: barking dogs who have been left outside unattended for long stretches, firetruck,  ambulance or police sirens, signaling a crisis of some kind, or even the sound of garbage trucks rumbling through the alley. For the moment my concentration may be broken. Oh well. That's the way life is in an urban neighborhood.

Don't get me wrong, I will always treasure the quiet moments, the measured rhythm of stillness, but as I age, I think I am more able to listen and appreciate the sounds of happy activity. The sounds of love, of connection, of life. 

An Invitation
How about you? What are the sounds in your life? What are the sounds that enhance your life? I would love to know. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Self-Care;Thursday's Reflection

"Take care of yourself today," my Dad often says at the end of our brief morning conversation.

My first thought is how he has taken such good care of our family over the years and how he continues to do so. For example, I know he prays for us and keeps us all in his heart. 

Now, of course, we need to care for him in some ways, although he is still quite independent, even at age 94. For example, this past weekend we took him to my mother's grave in Lakewood Cemetery. That is something he can no longer do on his own, along with driving at night or beyond his loop of life. The list of ways he needs our care is small so far, and we are grateful for his good health and active mind. 

I wonder, when he reminds me to take good care of myself, what that means for me right now. I almost immediately think about  what I am NOT doing to take good care of myself, like exercising. And then I feel guilty, of course. 

But there are other ways I do take care of myself, beginning with my morning meditation time. This time grounds me and alerts me to the movement of God in my life. This time opens me to the ways I am meant to move and be in the world and how I am to care for others. If I miss a morning or two of this self-care, I begin to feel wobbly and unsure and critical of myself and others.

Making sure I have writing time, perhaps not every day, but most days, is another way I take care of myself these days. Writing is one of the ways I show up in the world, one of the tools God has given me to live as the person I was created to be. 

Perhaps that's what "taking care of yourself" means: living from your essence, doing the work God created you to do. When I think of it this way, it doesn't feel so self-absorbed, but actually directs me to live wholeheartedly. For myself, but also for and with others.

I feel cared for when my father tells me to have a good day and to take care of myself, and better equipped to live those good words in all I do and all I am. 

An Invitation
What does "take good care of yourself" mean to you? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

First Day of School: Tuesday's Reflection

For many children school starts today, and, oh, does that bring back memories. 

I loved school--both as a student and later as a teacher--and am grateful I was able to learn without great struggles and had parents who supported my love of learning. How thankful I am our children thrived in school settings. That is true now for our grandchildren, too.  Obviously, that is not always the case. 

(Note: I can't believe I wore a suit and nylons on my move-in day at St Olaf! That was 1966, and oh, how the times were different then!)

Today seems like a good day to celebrate all we have learned (Thank you, teachers!), all we have managed to survive, and the twists and turns, directions and dimensions of our lives. So much of our life has been in school. 

Today is also a good day, to think about what you are learning, what you are studying now. There so many excellent opportunities for those of us in the 3rd Chapter of our lives,for colleges and universities and community education programs are everywhere. Plus, there are online offerings. I salivate at all the possibilities, making it hard to pick and choose. I have signed up for a couple classes at The Loft Literary Center and this week will attend the first fall monthly writing session at Wisdom Ways.

At the same time I am conducting my own independent studies. Soon I will present an adult forum at church called Spirituality 101 and in the process I am reading and studying and sorting and processing. This summer I created a course for myself about writing essays and also spiritual memoir as a path for restructuring the book I am writing. 

And then there is the learning that comes with this stage of life. I have never been 69 years before and this time of life has great potential for learning. Inner learning. Inner growth. 

I am reading an excellent book by Sherry Ruth Anderson, Ripening Time, Inside Stories for  Aging with Grace. She says,
         I propose that, since we do not know what reaches and
         dimensions of our humanity are possible as we age, we
         engage the question. All the questions--whatever we can
         discover about how we can grow old consciously. We 
         already know too much about what diminishes--hearing,
         eyesight, short-term memory, speed of recall and 
         calculation, and so on. That is not so interesting. But
         to consider what grows, what develops, what ripens--that,
         I propose, is interesting indeed. 

We can each start a new school year today. The School of Conscious Aging. Get out your notebooks and pack a lunch. Happy first day of school! 

An Invitation
What first day of school memories do you have? Are you still in school? Actually or metaphorically? I would love to know. 

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Lessons from a Garage Sale: Thursday's Reflection

My reason for a garage sale was to eliminate as many of the bins
packed with treasures no longer desired. We priced everything to sell and if someone offered us less, more often than not, we accepted. I am happy to report that our recent garage sale was a big success, and we have made additional strides in our goal to lighten up and clear the space.

Our grandson Peter, age 9, had another goal, however. He brought over games and DVDs and puzzles and other items to sell, and he eagerly watched his pile dwindle and his cash mount. His goal was to make some cash. 

Our different goals highlighted for me our very different stages in life. He needs money to acquire what matters to him now at his young age, and he doesn't have many ways yet to make money. I, on the other hand, want to use my energy in ways other than acquiring stuff and then taking care of it, shuffling and sorting it. I still have plenty of stuff, trust me, and I love creating a home pleasing to the eye, but that pleasure comes these days from having  much less than in my younger years.  I don't think that is an uncommon feeling at my stage of life.

Not everyone feels that way, however. 

I wonder how many times during our garage sale I heard someone, usually an older person, say, "I shouldn't even be here. I don't need one more thing." Usually I just smiled and maybe said, "I understand," but what I actually thought was "Then why are you here." 

Garage Sales as Life Review
Of course, garage sales are also opportunities to share memories. 

I have collected colorful and useful linen for years--tablecloths and dresser scarves and dish towels etc--and have loved using them. I like ironing, so using them has been more a pleasure than a chore. Over the last few years I have dispersed that huge collection (the picture is from an earlier garage sale) and been delighted when young women have told me about using them to create charming dresses for little girls or cafe curtains for bungalow kitchens, for example. 

Few people express interest in collecting linen, however, but instead seeing many of my pieces generates memories of Grandma's kitchen or the dining room table at Christmases long past gone. "My mother had a towel just like this." For a few minutes these memories swirl in our garage. 

We all need time and space to share memories.

Collecting, but not Using
What always distresses me at garage sales, however, are the people who tell me all the things they have, but never use. One woman told me about her many, many sets of beautiful dishes. She even showed me a small tureen she bought at another sale. "Oh, you must so enjoy setting your table," I said. She looked both horrified and embarrassed, telling me she never uses any of it. I asked her what she was saving it all for, but she didn't have an answer. I felt such sadness for her. 

Opportunities for Spiritual Growth
If I were sitting in spiritual direction, with some of these individuals, I would ask them to explore their feelings about "stuff" and the ongoing desire for more in their life or their inability to let go. How is God, the Divine, the Sacred present to them or moving in their life as they go to garage sale after garage sale? What is the invitation in their life right now? What is waiting for them at the bottom of the pile?  

Peter was pleased with the money he earned. I was pleased with all the inventory that moved to a new home. And, as always, there are gifts along the way. 

An Invitation
How are you doing with all you have accumulated over the years? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Your Lane: Tuesday's Reflection

"That's my lane. I'm learning how to let others run in their lanes while I stick with mine."
                             Joanna Gaines

The HGTV star and entrepreneur extraordinaire, Joanna Gaines, runs in several lanes at the same time, I think, but this statement in her magazine Magnolia made me pause and reflect.

What's my lane? What are my gifts? Passions? Where is it I most need to focus and how is it I need to share my gifts and live my passions? 

August turning into September feels like the right time to sit with those questions once again, and I like this image of a lane--a bike lane, a country lane, side by side interstate lanes with the lane on the right for slower moving traffic. 

I know there are some things I do well (my lanes) and some things I don't do well and don't even want to do well (some one else's lanes) and I know sometimes lanes turn into trails past unexpected views and sometimes they dead end. The tolls on some lanes are high, but sometimes the cost is worth it. By now, at age 69, I have traveled many lanes and I am better at changing lanes when it is necessary. 

It is my job to recognize those lanes and move forward on them.

Well, this metaphor could go on and on, just like some lanes, but you get the idea.  

Here's what I need to remember: When I take time to listen to my inner voice, to open my heart to the movement of God within me and around me, I become clearer about which lane to follow. 

An Invitation
What is your lane? I would love to know.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Always More To Do: Thursday's Reflection

One of the categories on my weekly "To Do" list is "Leftovers." This category lists items I didn't complete in a given week, but still intend to do. Week after week this summer I transferred two items. 

1.     Take several pieces of jewelry to someone who can repair them.

2.      Make an appointment with Bradshaw Funeral and Cremation Services to arrange for green cremation of our bodies after we have died. 

This week I finally acted on both items, and, of course, after doing them, I wondered what took me so long? Why did I delay? After all, I had checked off many tasks each week, so why did I procrastinate about these two assignments?

Of course, sometimes when a task is ignored long enough, the need for it disappears. I certainly could have decided that having these various pieces of jewelry repaired was not necessary. I have more than enough jewelry, but these are pieces I have worn often and would enjoy wearing them again. In the case of planning ahead for our cremation, I could decide to leave those arrangements to our family when the time comes, but does that make sense when we can do it now? 

Some items I tell myself I need to do never make it to my "to do" list--tasks like sorting and organizing our boxes of photographs or like consulting with someone about how to improve the look and use of this blog. Both of these things weigh on me, but I know I will move them into the "leftover" category week after week, and I just don't want that kind of pressure. 

Much of our daily life can be sorted into "easy tasks" and "hard tasks." Those are different for each of us, of course, but how we respond indicates a lot about who we are now, what is important to us now, and how we are living our life. It occurs to me that our sorting process is part of attempting to live a balanced life. Fixing my jewelry feels like living in the present moment, deciding how to accessorize today's outfit, but with a bow to the past, remembering when I was given a piece or where I bought it. Our green cremation plans acknowledge our mortality, which is the future for each of us.  

Where am I going with this? To be honest, I don't actually know, but I think intentional reflection about how we spend our days, the easy and the difficult, is important. I have today, and I pray I have tomorrow--many tomorrows, but I don't have a crystal ball to give me my personal timeline. I just need to do the best I can to live with grace and purpose. 

An Invitation
What is on your "leftovers" list? What is your criteria for what you do and don't do? I would love to know. 

NOTE: You can find out about Green Cremation here.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Turn on the Light: Tuesday's Reflection

When my mother was still alive, one of her late afternoon habits was to go up to the bedroom she and my father shared and turn on the dresser light, even if it wasn't yet dark. That way when they went up the stairs at bedtime a light showed them the way.

If I was home visiting, she turned on a light in my bedroom, too.
I never thought much about this daily ritual until she died. 

I missed her light. 

I don't know if Mom thought of her light routine as a spiritual practice or even as a touch of love, but that's how it seems to me. She knew that the dark comes, but she also knew she could shine a light through the dark. 

Recent days have seemed dark in our country, and not just because of the eclipse. More than ever we need signs of light, but, of course, the way to create light is to BE the light. Do your remember the children's song sung so often in Sunday School? 
                       This little light of mine. 
                       I'm going to let it shine. 
                       Let it shine. 
                       Let it shine. 
                       Let it shine.

The children stand with light on their faces and as they sing, they lift one finger in the air to symbolize the light they possess, the light they are in the world. 

I hasten to add I am not talking about torches of fire. Instead I am calling forth our own glowing light, the light of our essence, the light we possess for love of the Divine, love of family and friends, love of country and the hope of all we can be.

The other day a friend sent me this Sandra Boynton drawing
because, she said, it made her think of me. I generally sign letters and cards and even emails with either "Love and Light" or "Light Blessings." Blessings and love pair naturally with light, growing  from the light, as well as extending into the light. 

Many days I try to channel my mother's light and turn on our bedroom dresser light before dark and also, a lamp in the window of the room we call "the snug," which is in the front of the house and can be seen by all who pass. This simple act, a spiritual practice, really, reminds me to let my light shine.

The world needs my light.

The world needs your light.

Love and Light and Light Blessings, too, Nancy

An Invitation
How do you let your light shine? I would love to know. 

NOTE: I recommend this video --you will feel lighter. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/new-orleans-mayor-confederate-monument_us_5995a3d3e4b0d0d2cc84c9a7

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Spiritual Practices in a Time of Turmoil: Thursday's Reflection

How often these days I want to hide out in my garret, specifically, in my comfortable chair tucked in a corner. I want to extend my morning meditation time into mid morning and beyond. Then when I finally take a shower I am reluctant to turn off the water and get dressed. 

Focusing on the writing work I have challenged myself to do has become harder. Like those first weeks after the election and then the inauguration, I am drawn to online news reports and to having the radio on in the background as I try to work at my desk. 

I am outraged and fearful. The white supremacists turn my stomach, but it is the president's behavior that upsets and concerns me even more. How close are we to a national brawl where shouting is the norm? 

What to Do? How to respond?

I can't give you those answers. Each of us has to decide for ourselves what we can do and how to respond, but first, before any action, there needs to be a kind of stillness. I need to remember what grounds me, what clarifies next steps and fortifies me for action.  

For some that may mean walking along the river or reading to a grandchild or cooking a pot of soup or needlepointing or swimming laps or even washing the car. 

For some it may mean walking a labyrinth or reading scripture or writing in a journal. Attending a worship service, praying or sitting motionless on a meditation cushion. 

Each one of these activities can be a spiritual practice, a threshold into deeper relationship with divine presence. Each one of these practices can be a way to center and open to what we are asked to do and how we are asked to respond and be in these troubled times. 

Words to Consider

                You do not need to know precisely what is
                 happening, or exactly where it is all going.
                 What you need is to recognize the possibilities
                 challenges offered by the present moment, and 
                 to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope.
                                                  Thomas Merton

                       Teach me to be love,
                              as You are Love;
                       Lead me through each fear;
                       Hold my hand as I walk through
                             valleys of doubt each day,
                      That I may know your peace.  
                                              adapted from Psalm 27

           The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and
           do something. Don't wait for good things to happen
           to you. If you go out and make some good things
           happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will
           fill yourself with hope.
                                           Barak Obama

An Invitation
What do you do to come to stillness and awareness of the divine presence? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

August Joys and Sorrows: Tuesday's Reflection

This past weekend we attended our nephew Brandon's wedding. An elegant and meaningful celebration, full of love and joy. Another happy August event. 

August is a big month for celebrating in our household. Along with our anniversary (46 years this year), we celebrate daughter Kate's birthday, my father's birthday, Kate and Mike's anniversary and many other birthdays and anniversaries of family and friends. My mother's birthday was in August, too.

We could be eating cake almost every day this month! 

Sometimes it is challenging to celebrate, however, when news of violence and hate invades. How many times have we needed our faith communities this past year? We have needed consolation and shelter, but also encouragement and the reminder to be brave. This last Sunday was no exception.

Not only did the sermon help, but the moment of silent reflection after the reading of a lesson, and, of course, sharing the peace and receiving the bread and wine. Those are the things that ground me, that remind me of the ongoing embrace of God. Those are the things that clarify all over again that what God wants for us is to love one another and to know that we were each created in the image of God. There is no room for hate in God's love. 

On the way out of church I mentioned to one of the pastor's how we had been to a beautiful wedding and what a happy event it was. I didn't feel guilty about relishing the celebration, but it was a bit hard to reconcile the joy when violence was erupting in Charlottesville. He reminded me that life is messy, and that we are here for each other in our joys and in our sorrows. Yes.

An Invitation
What are you doing to respond to both the joys and the sorrows in your life and in the life you witness around you? What grounds your every breath? I would love to know. 

NOTE: I recommend the following post with its thoughts about staying grounded in the current political climate. https://jenniferhofmann.com/sleeping-near-forest-fire/

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Wonder Woman: Thursday's Reflection

Granddaughter Maren (age 14) came home from camp yesterday. For 17 days she canoed in Quetico, across the Minnesota-Canada border, and as you can see she is a strong, empowered young woman. 

I am eager to learn the details about her camper colleagues and  counselor, plus details about portages crossed, miles canoed, territory covered, wildlife seen. I also wonder about the challenges met and lessons learned.

Even though this was not her first time at Widjiwagan, this was the first time she wasn't going with her best friend, and she was a bit nervous about being with girls she didn't know. After all there you are in the wilderness and there is no alternative, but to keep on paddling. And there is no cell phone coverage, even if you had your phone with you. 

Her previous Widji experiences have been so positive, but what if this one wasn't? She wondered if her good fortune was about to run out. Certainly it is true that not every event and opportunity in her life will be stellar. I am sure there will be times when she will just want something to end, to go home and crawl into the security of her own bed.

But here's the thing about Maren: She not only pushes through her own anxiety, she helps others push through their anxieties, too. She may not feel confident, but she is a confident presence and inspires it in others. She is brave and self-aware, always giving her best, and frankly, her best shines. 

A friend from church remarked how Maren added to her Easter morning experience with her calm, steady demeanor. I know my friend was being nice to this besotted grandmother, but I also know what she said is true, and it brings tears to my eyes when I think of Maren, tall and sure, during the Gospel processional. Of course, I love her fun-loving, playful, and silly side, too. How often I seem to catch glimpses of her holy essence. 

I wouldn't presume to tell her who I think God created her to be, but I can have a role in supporting her understanding and development of that person. And what a privilege that is. 

Welcome home, Wonder Woman Maren! (Note the Wonder Woman hat a friend knit for her.)

An Invitation
Do you have any young Wonder Women in your life? I would love to know.)

NOTE: Maren and her Widji experiences when she was 12 inspired two earlier posts here and here.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

August Promises: Tuesday Reflection

Can you believe it? It's August already. 

How many times have you heard someone say that the last few days or how many times have you said this yourself? Even though the fall and winter seasons are much more to my liking (Sweaters! Pumpkins! Soup!) I feel some regret about how quickly summer days have floated away.  

I look at my "summer list" and am pleased to see some check marks next to places to visit, like the Jeffers Petroglyphs, and tours to take like Minneapolis's  Lakewood Cemetery and our newly restored state capitol. We enjoyed a boat trip on the St Croix and a few days on the North Shore. 
We loved the musical Sunday in the Park with George and a walking tour in the former mill district of Minneapolis about women's work in the 1880's. We wandered through several art fairs and enjoyed leisurely dinners with friends. 

But... we have not gone to any outdoor concerts, and we haven't walked through the sculpture garden at the Walker Art Museum. Grandson Peter and I only made it to a couple libraries in spite of our plan to visit several, and granddaughter Maren and I didn't spend a day writing together as we had discussed. In fact, I have not done much writing at all, and I wonder if I am going to be able to find my writing rhythm again. 

I have yet to get out my bike this season, and I have not walked as much as I always think I will when the sidewalks are free of ice. I have not been inspired by all the fresh veggies and fruits to cook interesting meals. Nor have I sipped a gin and tonic frequently. I have not even sat in our private "Paris" garden very often, although each time I do I feel refreshed and restored. 

However, I have read a pile of books on my summer reading list (See summer reading post here)      

I have started most mornings in prayer and meditation and have gone to church most Sundays, even though it has been tempting to stay home with the New York Times. 

I have allowed myself to move quietly through the days, but as a summer nanny for our grands, I have opened, also, to their needs. I have set aside some demands on myself, along with expectations to be productive. While I have not let go of my list-making habit, I have used my lists more as a guide than a dictator. 

What does this mean as I look ahead to these August days? I do want to walk more. I do want to re-open the door to writing time. I do want to enjoy the abundance of produce. Maybe we will check off another item or two on my summer list, but maybe not. 

Maybe not. 

Here's what I think: As I get older, I am able to listen to my heart more. 
         What is it I most want to do right now? 
         What will enhance the person I was created to be? 
         What am I called to do right now, especially this August? 
         How is God moving in my life?

I think August holds a promise for each of us, much as the Third Chapter of life does. There is still time to do what we most want to do and become who we were created to be, BUT don't wait, for the next season is coming.

An Invitation
How will you live in these August days? I would love to know. 

Here's another post about approaching the end of summer: Change in direction


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Giving and Receiving Suggestions: Thursday's Reflection

Grandson Peter (age 9) and I discovered a new game, Forbidden Island, last week and spent the afternoon playing it at our house. Instead of players competing with each other, players are encouraged to collaborate in order to triumph over the game itself.

If Peter and I had been playing against each other, there is no doubt in my mind he would have won round after round. He caught on much more quickly to the needed strategy and ways to be successful.

Each time when it was my turn, before I even had a chance to scan the board and see my options, he said, "I have a suggestion." He could hardly contain himself, for he knew just what I should do and then what his next move would be. 

I asked him to hold his suggestions until I had a moment to consider what to do. "I won't do anything," I said, "until I check it with you." But that wasn't sufficient for him. He knew the right path and wanted me to know it before I made a mistake.  Eventually, giving in, I laughed, and just did what he told me to do. 

Another Story of Suggestions
As many of you know, during the last few years, I have been writing a spiritual memoir. This summer I hired a writer/teacher whom I respect to read my manuscript and offer me her considered opinion and suggestions. Needless to say I was nervous about her critique. She had many positive things to say, which, of course, pleased me, but (and isn't there always a "but") she also made suggestions that were harder to hear and will be even harder to implement. 

Unlike Peter, however, she didn't demand my immediate response and adherence to what he maintained was "just a suggestion." She, in fact, urged me to take time to reflect on what she said before I do anything. I know I have the right and obligation to decide for myself what changes to make and which ones to disregard, but I also know I asked for her expert opinion and ideas. I owe it to myself and my book to carefully consider everything she said. 

Giving Suggestions
Sometimes I am the one giving suggestions. 

Dear friends are moving into a home that will better meet their needs in the Third Chapter of life, and they are excited, but it is happening faster than anticipated. Bruce and I have had lots of experience moving, and they asked for our suggestions. I hope I didn't overwhelm them with my responses. Ultimately, they will need to make their own decisions and do what is right for them.

When I sit with my spiritual direction clients, I may offer questions to consider or suggest a spiritual practice to try. My intention is to listen carefully before expressing what I hear and what may be a helpful next step. I hope my suggestions lead my clients towards their own insights and the movement of God in their lives.

Responses to Suggestions
Sometimes I respond defensively. 

Sometimes I know I stop listening altogether. 

Sometimes I remind myself to open my heart and listen through the suggestion to the intention of the person making the suggestion. 

And when I am the person being asked for advice, I try to remember to pause and speak from a heart that breathes with humility and love and not judgment. And when I am tempted to share what I think is wise advice, even when it is not solicited, I try, but don't always succeed, to listen even more intently, especially to my own inner voice, before saying anything at all. 

Sometimes, often, in fact, my inner voice, the voice of the being God created me to be, tells me to just be quiet and hold the moment in stillness. Sometimes I actually follow that suggestion. 

An Invitation
How do you respond to suggestions? How do you give suggestions? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Making New Friends: Tuesday's Reflection

Last week we spent a few days on Minnesota's North Shore with new friends who had generously invited us to join them at their timeshare on Lake Superior. We eagerly accepted, but at the same time wondered how it would be to spend more than an evening with them. Would we find enough to talk about? Would we discover major differences among us? Was our friendship too new for this kind of intense interaction? Would we like each other more or less when we said goodbye and returned to our homes?

Well, no problem. Our days together were rich. In fact, we were still chatting and laughing as we loaded our cars for the drive home. What a relief! 

Now instead of describing our friendship as "new," I will introduce these friends as our good friends, our dear friends. I think of them now as friends with whom I can truly share who I am. 

Yes, I know how lucky I am, but feel free to remind me. 

Creating New Friendships So here's something I've been thinking about recently. Since moving back to St Paul after being away for twenty years, we have made so many new friends. Many of these friendships seem to be developing into deep friendships, strong, supportive friendships, which is a true blessing. At the same time a later in life friendship requires some extra work. 

We didn't know each other growing up or going off to college. We weren't at each other's weddings or the baptisms of our children. We didn't share the ups and downs of our career lives or see each other in positions of responsibility. We have not been in each other's earlier homes or met one another's parents. 

We have no history with each other. 

Developing a new friendship at this time of life, the Third Chapter, means filling in some blank spaces. What is it I most want my new friend to know about me? What are the key stories to share? What do we have in common and in what ways have our lives been different? 

What is it we need right now and even, how do I make room in my life for a new friendship? 

A Story From the Past
When we moved to Ohio many years ago, I volunteered at the hospice program where my husband was the medical director. The volunteer coordinator and I were about the same age and didn't live far from each other. I enjoyed chatting with her--normal kinds of conversations about our kids and house projects and books. The kind of everyday conversation someone new to a community hungers to have.

One day I asked if she would ever like to meet for a casual supper, and she seemed pleased to be asked. We set a date. My only expectation was for a pleasant evening, but perhaps I appeared over eager, too needy.

We met at a deli-kind of place where we ordered at the counter and then settled at a table. I asked her about her day, but instead of answering me, she announced without warning, "I just want you to know I don't have room in my life for more friends."

Yes, she really said that. 

Why didn't I pack up my chicken salad sandwich and chocolate chip cookie at that very moment and leave? How did I get through the meal with her? 

Over the years I have wondered about my dinner companion who had enough friends. What was her back story? Was there something happening in her life right then that forced her to pull in the welcome mat? 

I wish I had exhibited a more open and compassionate heart. I wish I had been more present to her. I wonder, all these years later, if she could use a new friend in her life now.

New Friendships
New friendships require curiosity and a willingness to hear one another's story. New friendships require a desire to grow and expand one's circle. New friendships require an open heart. 

Sometimes new friendships require taking a chance.

I am so glad the four of us, our new good and dear friends, were willing to do that, for now in place of some of those blank spaces, we have memories and the beginning of a friendship history. 

An Invitation
Where in your life are there possible new friends? What are you willing to do about that? I would love to know.

Just For Fun: Check out some of my posts from the past. 
One Year Ago: Pesto Marathon 
Two Years Ago: Want to Talk?