Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Roaming and Retirement: Tuesday's Reflection

Hey, Downton Abbey fans, remember the Dowager's question,

"What's a weekend?

In our retirement or semi-retirement years we might ask a similar question? What's the difference between a weekday and a weekend? Some of the boundaries around time have loosened. Instead of waiting eagerly for the weekend to appear so we can ____ or _____ (Fill in the blank.), we now have greater flexibility. 

The trick is adapting to that flexibility. 

At the beginning of last week I suggested we go visit some of the nurseries and greenhouses listed in an article in the St Paul Pioneer Press. We had been to most of them in the Twin Cities, but not the ones in the outlying areas. My husband and I love to roam, and I was yearning to get out into the country. Our first thought was to do that on Saturday, but Thursday evening, I posed a novel idea. How about tomorrow? Friday? We had nothing on the schedule, and there was absolutely no reason to wait till the weekend.

A few weeks ago we met friends for brunch on a weekday morning,  which felt slightly decadent and rebellious. And delicious. 

We can do this. We have the luxury of doing this. Let's do it.

The opposite is true, also. My husband works part time at home for Agrace Hospice in Madison, WI. An online position which he can do on his own schedule. That means sometimes he works on a Saturday or Sunday or early, early in the mornings or whenever. Not just Monday through Friday, 9-5. And I can write whenever I want to write. The only clock either of us has to punch is our internal one.

Old habits die hard and acting on this freedom doesn't come naturally. So what's next? Maybe a middle of the day movie on a Tuesday or a dinner party on a Wednesday night. What a concept! 

An Invitation
How has the concept of time changed for you as you have gotten older? I would love to know.

#1  Funkie Gardens, Marine on St Croix, MN
#2  My Sister's Garden, Hudson, WI
#3  Country Sun Farm, Lake Elmo, MN

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Morning Question: Thursday's Reflection

What are the questions that get you up in the morning?

One afternoon this week my Third Chapter Planning Team from church met here in the garret to review our mission, as well as the recent opportunities for continued growth, inspiration, and fellowship we have offered. This group is not short on ideas, and we filled several flip chart pages with goals and themes and ideas and topics for summer and fall programs.  

By the way, if you are 55 or older you  are in the Third Chapter stage of life.

As we considered future programming, we discussed how the Third Chapter is often a time of major change and transition. Those changes frequently involve loss, including loss of one's identity and purpose. One may no longer have a ready answer for what gets you up in the morning. 

I like the way Adam S. McHugh in his book The Listening Life, Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction phrases the question. 

"What are the questions that get you up in the morning?" 

This addresses one's personal mission and purpose. It inspires  curiosity and encourages new growth. 

McHugh doesn't believe we each are limited to one calling in our lifetime, and he certainly doesn't believe when we have achieved the goals or intention of an earlier calling that we are DONE. The Third Chapter, in fact, can be a time to discover a new calling, to explore new questions.

            We listen for the questions that are far reaching, 
            usually just out of reach, God-oriented but not
            necessarily religious, motivated by love, requiring
            faith, and steeped in hope. ... The right questions 
            sweep you up and take you to new places and new 
            people, moving you forward into risk, compelling
            you to keep going when you encounter obstacles.
                                                        pp 199-200

McHugh's response to his own question is, "How do people change?...I am driven to know how it is that we are transformed from one person to another, deeper and deeper into the image of Christ." 

During a recent morning meditation time, I thought about my own get-up-in-the-morning questions. 
          What can I do to encourage self-discovery, self-
           How can I help others deepen their relationship 
           with the Divine, the Sacred, the Holy?
           How can I lead a life of greater openness and
           awareness of the Holy?  

Living answers to these questions excite me, motivate me, and lead to all sorts of possibilities.          

For much of our adult life, we have probably taken for granted the reason we get up in the morning, and we may even have wished we could extend the night and not have so many demanding reasons to get out of bed. This Third Chapter stage is the time to allow a new question or the reframing of a previous question to enter your life. Perhaps your question is, "What is my new question?" or "Who am I now?" Now that's exciting! 

An Invitation
What are the questions that get you up in the morning? I would love to know. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Rain and Reading: Tuesday's Reflection

Rain and more rain. And cold. 

Once I realized my plan to meander in the country, visiting a number of nurseries, was not the best idea, I moved into my default activity: reading. 

I interspersed reading time with some cleaning, baking muffins, writing a letter, and even doing some work at my desk, but the hours were deliciously book-filled.

May I recommend:
1.     Exit West a novel by Mohsin Hamid.  Set in an unnamed war torn city the story focuses on a young couple who decide to flee. They hear whispers about a mysterious door (Think C.S. Lewis's Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe.) that can lead to a new life. The first door is not the final door, however, and this book, which is an amazing combination of metaphor, fantasy, and reality, illuminated the courage and resilience needed to be an immigrant today. Excellent!

2.     Hourglass, Time Memory, Marriage, a memoir by Dani Shapiro. I am a huge fan of her earlier book, Still Writing, The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life. How much room do I have for quotes from this earlier book, which, I think, I need to read again? 

           We are part of a great tapestry of those who have
           preceded us. And so we must ask ourselves: Are 
           we feeling with our minds? Thinking with out hearts?
           Making every empathic leap we can? Are we witnesses
           to the world around us? Are we climbing on the 
           shoulders of those who paved the way for us? Are
           we using every last bit of ourselves, living these lives
           of ours, spending it spending it all, every single day?

The new book is about how marriage is transformed over time, and all of us who are or who have been married understand that premise. The book, never sappy, becomes a love letter, but not without misspelled moments or words mistakenly left out. She explores a question we all wonder about our spouses now and then, "Do I know you?" and life goes on. 

3.     The Professor's House, Willa Cather's seventh novel and perhaps my favorite. I am reading all of her novels in the order in which they were written and could hardly wait to get to this one, which I loved when I read it the first time many years ago. Perhaps I love it because of the professor's attachment to his third floor study, even after his wife moves into a new house. As in all of her books, politically incorrect references are sometimes made, but reflective of her time. Read on, anyway. This is the line that sticks with me in this study of emotional dislocation and renewal:
                The heart of another is a dark forest, always, no 
                matter how close it has been to one's own.

The next Cather book is My Mortal Enemy.

4.     The Listening Life, Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction by Adam S. McHugh. This is my book of choice right now during my morning meditation time. My favorite chapters so far are "Listening to God" and "Listening to Others," but there is also an excellent section about the seasons in "Listening to Creation." My prayer is that this book will help me evolve into a better listener. McHugh reminds us:

                 When we listen to people, we are embracing
                 them as whole, not fractions, even if they offer
                 only a small part of themselves to us. That small
                 part is attached to big parts, big memories, big
                 stories, big feelings, big losses, and big dreams.

5.      On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. I have never read one of King's bestselling novels and more than likely I won't read any in the future, but I value his passion for writing, reading, life. 

I ended the weekend satisfied and restored and with fewer books on my ever-growing stack. 

A Side Note
A few weeks ago on the radio program "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me," they suggested the best second line for any book is "And then the murders began." For example, the first line in The Professor's House is "The moving was over and done." Now add, "And then the murders began." Try it with a favorite book or one you are currently reading.  A fun twist! 

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?