March 5, 2014
Who likes the idea of trudging through a desert? Raise your hand!
And yet here we are, Ash Wednesday, facing a desert that comes around once a year.
The other day my friend admitted she doesn't look forward to Lent, and is especially dreading it this year. We've been through a really long, cold winter -- a sustained frigidity unlike any I remember in my life. To that end, I would agree with her. It feels like we've already trudged through a desert, cold though it may have been. It has born down on our psyches and tested us like no other. And now we're supposed to enter into another time of denial? A human being can only take so much, it seems.
And yet...there's something to be said for giving it one last push. We can't know what we have in us, after all, until we've given it a whirl.
The prelude to Lent for me started out with a violent stomach flu that took me by complete surprise, and had me up all night Sunday, and sleeping most of the day Monday. Was this some kind of necessary pruning to prepare my heart for this next phase of desert? Perhaps.
Despite what my friend honestly admitted, and as much as I agree with her, I do approach Lent with hope. It is hard, but it is possible. We've done it all before. And what I've learned in recent years is that something valuable comes out of it to make me a better person, and that going through the desert leads to a more vibrant Easter. I'm counting on it. And with that in mind, I'm going to try to face it as bravely as possible, knowing transformation is on the other side.
As part of my Lenten fasting, I'm going to fast from blogging, as I have often in the past, to turn my attention to spiritual readings and more face to face encounters. I'll post on Peace Garden Mama only my newspaper story reprints, and be back at Easter to resume my schedule here.
Before I disappear for a while, I want to leave you with some thoughts from a newsletter I receive from the Daughters of St. Paul sisters. In a recent post, Sister Maria Grace Dateno mentioned three deserts we can experience in our lives.
The first, she said, is Jesus’ desert where he was tempted for forty days, along with the “desert” of his passion and death.
"We 'remain' in the desert with Jesus in our prayer and meditation, such as when we pray the Stations of the Cross or read the passion accounts in the Gospels," she said. "In this kind of prayer, time melts away, and we can be with Jesus in his agony in the garden, or as he carries the cross, not simply remembering a past event, but remaining with Jesus in his suffering."
The second is our own desert of whatever kinds of difficulties we're going through, such as illness, loneliness, or confusion we are facing in our life. "We remain in this desert when we do not try to escape, but instead live through the sufferings by uniting them with the sufferings of Jesus."
And the third is the vast desert of the sufferings of the world. In other words, "all the people who are living through untold difficulties, heartbreak, injustice, desperation, tragedy, and pain. It’s hard to remain in this desert for long. But we are called to do just that—by our prayer, solidarity, and whatever action we are called to do to help."
Then Sister asks, "What deserts are you facing this Lent? Perhaps you will spend time in all of them."
And to that she adds the most comforting thought of all, "Wherever we remain, Jesus is there with us."
I think that's the key. This is why we can do this. We won't be in the desert alone. Jesus will be right alongside us, giving us exactly what we need at each moment of our journey.
Now, let us walk into the desert, together.
February 26, 2014
"There are times in one's life when an overwhelming urge arises somewhere deep in the soul, and one has to write."
- Stephen K. Ray, author
I'd been hearing about this book for a while now. Monday night, the author was in town and it seemed time to "jump" into a purchase. My friend Madonna bought another of Ray's books and I grabbed this one, our intentions being to swap after we're finished and get two reads for the price of one.
Already, just one day into it, there are "dog ear" folds all over the place. I'm hoping my friend won't find the read too messy by the time I'm through. The first dog ear came at the introduction. This bodes well for what will follow.
I've said it before but I really do love conversion stories. Reading about the life of a soul and the journey it takes, leading up to the moment it turns a corner and is set on an entirely new path, is exhilarating. I can't help but celebrate for the converted; the one who has come back to life. What can offer more cause for joy, really, than a soul's salvation?
And Steve Ray, as I now know from up-close-and-personal experience, is one guy who, if you're not already enthused, will ignite a fire within your heart just from witnessing his passion. The lackluster who do not feel a surge of energy in his presence can't be more than stumps. This guy throws everything he has into his presentations. And by the time he reached the prairie, he was fresh from a trip to Israel. How do you accomplish such a zippy feat running solely on jet-lag fumes?
His conversion story, "Crossing the Tiber," started not as a book but a letter to his father to thank him for the example of faith he'd shown. I did something similar when I was going through my own conversion of sorts.
My parents hadn't lived out the faith perfectly, anymore than I have, though each contributed something of tremendous value. I'd say my mom did an especially nice job of guiding us with actions and eternal hope despite difficulty, and my father, with words encouraging us to stay with God, even during the years he didn't feel up to the task himself. How could I not be grateful for the ways they demonstrated that life with God is the better life?
Steve experienced a similar bursting when he discovered the Catholic faith was something more compelling and beautiful than what he'd been led to believe, and he wanted to give credit where it was due. He knew that his Protestant roots and his parents' examples had laid down the groundwork for him coming to the place at which he now found himself. He had to write out his feelings.
The first line of his introduction: "There are times in one's life when an overwhelming urge arises somewhere deep in the soul, and one has to write."
You know it, don't you? You've experienced it, too. There's nothing better, or more cathartic, than taking pen to paper in such times.
I can't imagine not having the tools I need and the gifts of expression that allow me to do this. Without them I would be forever at the point of bursting.
"This story had to be written," Ray continued. "We would have burst with pent-up joy had it not found its way onto paper."
Isn't it true? Writing is as much a need as anything else, especially to those of us drawn to this craft. But I would say it's a fairly universal thing. The cavemen found ways to draw those animals on the walls of their homes, to keep track of their lives, to give expression to what they were experiencing.
Writing, as much as anything, is an action that helps keep us from bursting.
Q4U: When did you think you would burst with ideas, and what did the release of that produce?
February 19, 2014
If you squint just so, you can see the resemblance, right?
Ah, I'm just having fun with ya! Johnny and I don't really look too much alike. Maybe in the eyes, both brown. But his hair is longer, and his earrings, much cooler.
We do have something in common, however; something that only 4.5 percent of the population can claim. We are both INFP's.
In Myers-Briggs speak, that means: Introvert (vs. Extrovert), Intuition (vs. Sensing), Feeling (vs. Thinking), and Perceiving (vs. Judging). To find out more about what these mean, visit here.
I took the Myers-Briggs personality type test quite a few years ago now, and I came out INFP then. So it was a surprise to me when my recent retake of another form of the test landed me in the same place. I figured that with 16 different types, there would have been some error along the way, but it looks like I'm fairly entrenched in this category.
So what does this mean? A summation of the INFP types says that Johnny and I are idealistic and loyal to our values and the people we care about, and that we seek to match our external selves with the internal.
True. Case in point: My faith is important to me, but just as important is living out these internal beliefs. It's not enough to have the belief. I want to put it into real-life action. The more I do this, the more peace I feel.
INFPs are also known to be curious and quick to see possibilities, and often catalysts for implementing ideas.
True. Case in point: The catalyst is a natural role for me. I've often called myself a cheerleader. I don't like to be the captain, but being an essential part of the team, and one with ideas that can be carried out, greatly fulfills me.
According to the summary, INFPs want to understand people and we enjoy helping others fulfill their potential.
True. Case in point: I love nurturing people, being a mentor to those in areas in which I might have something to offer, like parenting, writing and faith.
We're also adaptable and accepting -- unless a value is threatened.
True. Case in point: Because of my firm faith beliefs, I'll bet some who know me might question this first part. Adaptable? Accepting? Yes, very, I'd say. But don't threaten my values. I've thought long and hard about them and believe in them so much that I'm not likely to budge so much on those points. When it comes to individuals, however, I can be easily moved.
Some might argue any test taker is bound to resonate in some way with some elements of every category. However, as I read the category of one of my son's, I couldn't identify at all. He was an "I" too, but came out as SFJ -- completely opposite from me. Another son had the NFP, but came out as an "E" -- I'd say the only true extrovert in our family of seven. The categories are distinct, and interesting to consider.
Another site noted that INFPS have a gift for creating and interpreting symbols; for this reason, we find it natural to write and enjoy poetry, and are drawn to hypothetical or philosophical discussions more than any other type.
We are also prone to withdrawing from the world and getting lost in our deep thoughts. And herein lies the reason for this reflection on my writing-oriented blog:
"INFPs also often become great writers and actors, as they can easily reflect and convey their own personalities using the fictional characters. Generally speaking, people with this personality type are extremely creative, innovative and goal-oriented – they can be great advocates for causes they truly believe in."
Did you hear that fellow INFPs? We've found our place!
Taking a test like this generally doesn't change anything. Who I am, I've been for a fairly long time. But it is affirming, especially when I read that I haven't missed my ship -- that the place where I dwell is the place where, it appears, I was meant to be.
This isn't surprising. I feel alive when I write, and that tells me something about the synchronicity of my life. Not that I'm great - I'm not - but that I've found the thing that melds most with what I'm about. Hooray!
And I guess if no one else understands me -- INFPs tend to feel isolated because there are so few of us -- at least I can count on Johnny Depp to lend an empathetic ear.
If you're into these kinds of tests, there's a super-short form you can take if your life is particularly busy, though it is less accurate than the longer form, apparently. This is the one my boys took to determine their type. They were directly opposite from one another in every category, and I'm not surprised.
Q4U: Have you taken a personality test? Were there any surprises or any profound affirmations?
February 12, 2014
It's a beautiful thing to realize something over which you've been criticized is one of your most precious gifts.
A few years ago, someone labeled me a "brooder." While it wasn't done in a name-calling sort of way, it felt a bit critical to me; not unlike something similar I've also heard said about me: "You think too much."
Okay, you got me. Guilty as charged. Introverts do that kind of thing. But hang on here. I need to brood just a little, but I promise you'll appreciate the end.
First, full disclosure: my brooding ways have not always been beneficial.
|You brooder you!|
When I was in preschool, just a little older than this little princess, dandelions nearly got me in a heap of trouble. It was spring, and to me, dandelions were the most delightful flowers because they seemed to appear out of nowhere, nearly overnight.
A batch had popped up along the wall just outside our school and as we lined up there to wait for the bus, I became absorbed in the little yellow "flowers" and began studying them.
I remember the cool of the shade there, and how lovely it felt to be outside, examining and picking these bright-colored delights. I was so absorbed in those dandelions that I didn't hear the bus pull up or the kids behind me piling into it. I didn't even know it had started off until after I heard the rocks kicking up in its wheels.
When I realized what had happened, panic set in. I was soon running along the gravel road in front of the school, sucking up the dust of that bus in tears, certain I'd been left behind and would never be found again. It was an awful feeling of abandonment.
And all because of those dandelions and my brooding tendencies.
Thankfully, someone on the bus saw me running after it and it soon stopped. I was ushered onto the bus and into the arms of my waiting 4-year-old sister. I must have been all of 3 at the time. Camille, not my teacher, had brought me back into the world of safety and love.
I have no doubt that behind the bus, a trail of squished dandelions were lying lifeless in the wake.
Yes, my brooding had cost me but when I think of that day all these years later, I thank God for my brooding.
Brooding has negative connotations but what if we think of it just a little differently? These more positive words also describe what I am like when in this mode: thoughtful, reflective, intent, studious, curious, detailed, amazed.
And it is these qualities that have brought my writing to life. Without my propensity for stopping and quite literally smelling the roses -- and not only smelling but inhaling and inspecting, too -- I could not do justice to my work. Brooding brings a depth to what I do as a writer. It helps good writing become even richer.
As it turns out, this propensity in me is a beautiful gift. God made me to not just hurry by but stop and wonder, study and speculate. I love this about myself!
What a difference a perspective can make. What a difference a few adjustments in thinking can make. What a difference a tweak in words can make.
Q4U: Have you ever been criticized over something that has turned out to be one of your gifts?
February 5, 2014
Last month, I announced my word for the year: expectation.
It's a fine word, but one thing I've come to realize about the word of the year is that it needs a little maintenance, a little attention. Once it's out there, you can't just abandon it. It's always evolving, and it won't grow into the theme it's meant to be if you just put it in the corner and let it sulk.
So I've decided that I'm going to return to expectation from time to time -- maybe even monthly -- to report on how things are coming along with it. In what ways is "expectation" meeting the...well...the expectations that have been placed upon it by having been named my word for a whole year?
First, let's start with a visual. This is one of the things expectation can look like:
Expectation is what's around the corner. It's a lot like another one of my favorite words: hope. It has something to do, too, with this curious little kitty in that it's about anticipating the exciting things we're about to encounter.
The thing about expectation is you know something's coming but there's mystery involved. You can't know the full shape of it until you turn the bend. And even then there's still more to experience before you can actually look expectation in the hindsight eye.
Oh, I do love looking forward to good things! And as I think on those coming up in my life, I am filled with another great and applicable word: gratitude! I'm fairly certain that we start the process of dying the moment we have nothing to look forward to. We must have things to anticipate and get excited over to in order to live!
I'm happy to report that at present I have many reasons be living fully. Here's a little of what I'm talking about:
- LOVE! Later this month, my hubby and I will attend a Couple's Night Out our church hosts annually for its married parishioners. This year's event will take place at the Bluestem Center for the Arts across the river in Moorhead, Minn. I'm expecting a great meal and an inspiring talk by our new bishop, who has impressed me by his gentleness and faith. I am looking forward to this fun night of celebrating love!
- YOUNG AUTHORS! In March, I will return to Thief River Falls, Minn., to join other writers, authors and creatives to give a presentation at an annual young author conference. My talk will be "Truth, Dare, Double Dare," and in it, I'm going to spill the beans to the young people present on what the life of a writer is really like.
- NYC BABY! At the end of March, my oldest daughter and I will board a bus bound for New York City to experience her high school's choir tour 2014; me, as chaperone, her as participant. I'm just a little excited about this. There's nothing like a great adventure. The itinerary includes a couple Broadway musicals, time at a soup kitchen and a host of other fun stuff. Weee!
- HOLY SPIRIT COME! In April, our youngest will experience First Eucharist and Confirmation, and Easter will be in there somewhere, too, along with his ninth birthday and visits from extended family. At long last our littlest guy will be able to join the rest of our family in the Communion lines on Sunday. Yippee!
- AUTHOR VISIT! I'm still wrapping up details on this one, but it's looking like I'll be spending a full day with a school in our state at the end of April talking about books, writing and dreams. There's nothing like entering a school with a box of books and being surrounded by a hundred smiling, eager faces.
- SPRING! It is coming, really! We've had quite a winter so far and as one friend said, it's getting old talking about how old the winter is getting. But boy is spring going to be fantastic this year. Bring it on baby!
- SUMMER VISITS! Summer plans are still in the works, but there are a few things brewing that have me super excited about summer 2014, including a possible visit from a faraway friend, a trip out of town to visit a great college friend, and maybe a faraway visit to another part of the country as well. Details are a little hazy yet, but that's what makes the expectation factor so full of expectation!
- FALL SURPRISE! The fall promises to be extra fabulous, but I'll give only one hint for now: it has something to do with a book. The rest will be revealed in good time.
Life comes full of hills and valleys, but I feel like I'm riding along a very nice hilltop right now, and though I know the bumps and dips will be inevitable too, I'm going to embrace it while I can.
Q4U: What about you? What great expectations are around your bend?
January 29, 2014
An unexpected package arrived in the mail the other day from a friend I hadn't heard from in a while. I was at first delighted simply to see her name on the return label. Memories of our time together as part of a singing group that met weekly near my then-home in Western Washington flashed through my mind. But what had prompted her to go above and beyond the usual Christmas update? It's not everyday a true surprise comes along.
Inside, a card and hand-written note: "I was so excited to see this little book of beautiful poems. It made me think of you. I picked up a copy for myself and have really enjoyed."
"Voluntary on a Flight of Angels: New and Collected Poems," by Carolyn Maddux. Even before reading a single word of its insides the gift was a treasure to behold. Carolyn, one of those people whose paths I've been blessed to cross; someone who became a mother to me in my young adult years when my own mother was far away, and certainly, has been a mentor in every sense of the word ever since.
When I first accepted the job as reporter at The Shelton-Mason County Journal back in the early 1990s, we wondered just what we'd gotten ourselves into, having stepped into the world of a depressed logging community off the southeastern edge of the Olympic Peninsula.
We'd been drawn to the Pacific Northwest because of the gorgeous terrain and thought of working in the bustling, hip city of Seattle. But this latest job offer had taken us one step further from that latter goal, landing my husband and me in what seemed the sticks of the West. Though speckled with natural beauty, it also carried the small-town, backwards kind of feel we'd been trying so hard to escape.
In time, we'd see it differently, but initially we were tentative. Enter the talented, articulate, creative Carolyn. She would be training me in my new role, and I would be assuming her "society" beat while she moved onto covering the more grungy cops and courts news, trading in features and wedding pieces for drug raids, abuse and scandal.
From the beginning, I knew she must be a brave soul, and certainly, she was no run-of-the-mill reporter. Firstly, the fact that she was a mother and wife of the local Episcopal priest drew my curiosity. My faith was at a crossroads, and I would come to see later how much God loved me by placing me in that particular newsroom, in part so I could work out some of my big questions one by one with her and some of the others. But other special qualities quickly emerged as well. Among them, I discovered a floral fashioner, culinary creative and poet.
Carolyn once told me she suspected her draw to poetry had been, in part, due to a day job that required her to promulgate an abundance of words, and that writing poetry and keeping things succinct helped balance things out and offer reprieve. I suspect, too, that it gave her a chance to continue dipping into her amazing pool of creativity, which seemed endless.
She wasn't the only co-worker in that newsroom who would help mold me. It was a unique and rich place to be at that time in my life. But there was something amazing about Carolyn. She seemed to believe in my abilities from the get-go and gave me as much responsibility as I was willing to take on. Having the chance to work so near her in a small newsroom was nothing short of a divine gift. I watched as she started a wildflower collecting and arranging business, entered cooking competitions, and gathered poets from all over the region into our little town for readings at local coffee shops. Hearing about the writing workshops she both attended and taught was inspiring. She seemed abundant in the ability to honor the craft of others while still valuing her own talents, clearly seeing both the give and receive of the artistic circle. Best of all, perhaps, she had a genuine respect for all human beings no matter their lot in life.
Looking back now, I realize that in absorbing this day by day, I was beginning to believe in my own abilities and what might be possible. She'd already attained published-poet status by the time I entered the picture and her optimism and grace quickly started rubbing off on me. I began seeing my own writing aspirations not as faraway dreams but achievable. She had a great deal to do with that.
So when this lovely gift arrived in the mail, I brimmed with emotion. Because, first off, the friend who sent it knew exactly what would prompt my heart to smile. That in itself solicited a moment of gratitude. But beyond that, for a time, the three of us had shared the same space, and my friend knew as I did that this book of poems was extraordinary, for it had been birthed by someone with whom we had a personal connection and who'd touched us each in different ways.
Cracking open the book, a smile came even before I'd read the first line of the first poem. She'd dedicated the book to a woman named Elspeth -- one of the first people I interviewed for a feature story all those years ago. I can picture Elspeth now in her beautiful home in the woods, the apple trees nearby, the printing press in her basement. When she'd become ill, Carolyn had given me updates and asked for prayers. She'd died a brave but difficult death, and now that courageous life was being honored in black and white.
I've only begun to peek at the poems, but already, I'm drawn in. The one that bears the name of the book's title begins:
"Busy about your hands, they rustled
wings among the pipes. You pulled
the stops: gedecht and gemshorn on the swell,
rohrflute on the great, and coupled;
better today's great instrument, they thought,
than that mechanical thing. To contain
angels in the clockwork - what an insane
idea, even for Handel, but when he sent them,
obedient they went..."
I am in another world, transfixed by an old, musical clock containing bells and a pipe organ, for which Handel once wrote a few tunes, or so an introduction explains. I will absorb these words bit by bit and, I know already, love every one of them.
Q4U: Who has been a mentor to you and in what ways did they influence you?
January 22, 2014
"Remembering the lovely things we have forgotten
is one of the reasons for all art."
- Madeleine L'Engle
"Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art"
I'm sure I looked strange to my son as he pushed through the doors to meet me; me, with my phone held up to the windshield, my face contorted, my finger dabbing as I worked to get a somewhat focused shot. I had to settle on the above, but I felt satisfied enough to let go and get him home for dinner.
I don't know that I would necessarily call my fairly fuzzy, low-pixel photograph art, but I think of L'Engle's line and at the very least, would consider snowflakes on a windshield one of the "lovely, forgotten things" that I don't want to forget.
There's something else here that L'Engle has brought to my consciousness. It has to do with what she calls chronos, "our wrist watch and alarm clock time," versus kairos, "God's time, real time." As I stopped the world for a while to capture those snowflakes in time, I had fallen into kairos, I believe, and this is the space of the artist.
L'Engle says you know you are in kairos when clock time stands still and you are transfixed in a moment. When it happens, it's pure delight. It happened to me as I watched those snowflakes clinging to my windshield.
L'Engle expounds on this, saying we are not used to paying attention to kairos, but it means everything once we do.
Kairos, she says, is "that time which breaks through chronos with a shock of joy, that time we do not recognize while we are experiencing it, but only afterwards, because kairos has nothing to do with chronological time."
In kairos, she says, we are completely unselfconscious, "and yet paradoxically far more real than we can ever be when we are constantly checking our watches for chronological time."
Just a few examples she names of those in kairos:
- The saint in contemplation, lost (discovered) to self in the mind of God
- The artist at work
- The child at play, totally thrown outside himself in the game, be it building a sand castle or making a daisy chain
We've all been here, whether we realized it at the time. We recognize having been in kairos more easily in hindsight, when the rush has receded.
And so in order to create art so we can rediscover the lovely things we have forgotten, and recreate or present them so others can experience them, too, we must also create space for falling into this place of bliss, of reawakening, you might say.
That's no short order for those of us who live mostly in chronos, but it's well worth the pursuit.
Q4U: When do you find yourself in "God's time" or kairos? What are some of the lovely things we've forgotten that you love remembering?