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.

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.

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?