Made for Goodness: A Child of God

struggle made for goodnessA few years ago, in our attempt to downsize and declutter, I attacked the hundreds of books I own with an attitude of discernment. Where should this book reside? Where would it’s best home be? Shall I keep it to read again or send it along to be enjoyed by another reader?

I was particularly torn about one book, Made for Goodness by Desmond Tutu. It was a book my Circle read and discussed together. When I thumbed through the book, discerning, I opted to take a few photos of the pages that had truly made an impression on me, save them and send the book on where it could be loved by another. (Disclaimer: Some books are wistfully retrieved from the send-to-another-home pile and placed back on my bookshelf. With books – and life – this letting go is a journey.)

Yesterday, I came across a photo from this book, a poem written by Tutu for his daughter as seen through the eyes of God. I immediately thought of a friend who could use the comfort and encouragement of this message and started drafting an email to forward the image.

But, wait….I read it again and thought, “This is such a comforting message. I wish every child, every person, knew how loved and special they are; that they need not be so hard on themselves.” I thought of my daughter and my cousin’s daughters. Taking a little detour from the poem (summer days allow for such excursions), I started looking at baby photos of my little cousins, my daughter….and I stumbled upon a baby picture of myself.

I returned to the poem a third time, this time finally realizing that it is meant for me too.  I hear, “Walk slowly. Listen, for God is speaking. You are accompanied. You are known; uniquely created. Be faithful. Trust and it won’t matter how the road may turn. It’s not where you are going, but how. God is with you.”

Perhaps you need to hear this message today too. Here are the words of Desmond Tutu:

Don’t struggle and strive so, my child.
There is no race to complete, no point to prove, no obstacle course to conquer for you to win my love.
I have already given it to you.
I loved you before creation drew its first breath.
I dreamed you as I molded Adam from the mud.
I saw you wet from the womb.
I loved you then.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. ~Psalm 139:13baby

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Stop racing ahead at your own pace; you will only be exhausted, flamed out and spent before the task is accomplished.
Pace yourself with me, walk alongside me.

Do you think I don’t know the demands of your life?
I see you striving for perfection, craving acceptance.
I see you bending yourself out of shape to conform to the image that you have of me.
Do you imagine that I did not know who you were when I made you, when I knit you together in your mother’s womb?
Do you think I planted you as a fig tree and expected you to bloom roses?
No child, I sowed what I wanted to reap.

Be still and know that I am God! ~Psalm 46:11

baby2

You are a child after my own heart.
Seek out your deepest joy and you will find me there.
Find that which makes you perfectly yourself and know that I am at the heart of it.
Do what delights you and you will be working with me, walking with me, finding your life in me.

My precious child, I will call you to account for nothing more than I have asked of you. Just be faithful to the task I have set before you.
Whether you succeed or not is no matter to me.
Live as you hear me speak in you.
Live in the truth you learn from me, then it won’t matter how the road may turn.
The goodness you live will set you free.

I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. ~Psalm 131:2

baby love

May you recognize in your life the presence, power and light of your soul.
May you have respect for your individuality and difference.
May you realize that the shape of your soul is unique, that you have a special destiny here.
May you not disrespect your mystery through brittle words of false belonging.
May the frames of your belonging be generous enough for your dreams.
May the expectation in others eyes never decide how you are to be.
May you be blessed with good friends and learn to be a good friend yourself.
May you have friends who can see you.

Take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek no attention.
Respond to the call of your gift and have courage to follow its path.
May your outer dignity mirror the inner dignity of your soul.
May anxiety never linger about you.
May you have the courage to speak for the excluded ones.
May you learn to see yourself with the same delight, pride and expectation with which God sees you in every moment.

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The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack. In green pastures he makes me lie down; to still waters he leads me; he restores my soul. He guides me along right paths for the sake of his name. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me. ~Psalm 23: 1-4

Baby photos: Hadley, Harper (my cousin’s babies),  Jessica and me.
We’ve got good genes in our family. All beautiful babies 🙂

A Nebraska Birthday Wish

It’s Nebraska’s 150th birthday next year, but I get to blow out the candles and make the wish!! I know you aren’t supposed to share a birthday wish, but this is a secret I can’t keep. My wish: To share with everyone in Nebraska (and beyond) my favorite place in the whole world—a Benedictine monastery and retreat center in Schuyler, Nebraska.

DSC_0692Photo: St. Benedict Center

If you know me, you’ve likely heard me mention my favorite monks and St. Benedict Center a few hundred times or two. Over the past 14 years, I have been to dozens of programs and retreats, attended Mass and Liturgy of the Hours (daily prayers said five times a day) whenever I could, received countless sessions of spiritual direction, led my own SoulFully You retreats and have become a Benedictine Oblate. St. Benedict Center has helped me make my way back to the Catholic faith after a 20-year hiatus and has become my spiritual home. The monks and Oblates are family to me.

DSC_0389Photo: Final Oblation Mass, St. Benedict Center Chapel

If you know me, you also know that when I feel passionate about something I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut. If I read a good book, I want to tell everyone about it and start a book discussion. If I take a photograph that moves me, I feel compelled to share it with others. If I have a good story or example that will help my students, I will include it in my lesson plans within a few days. So this wish that I have—for everyone to know about my favorite monks and where they live—should come as no surprise. So when I learned about an opportunity to share my favorite place, I jumped on it.

DSC_0168 - CopyPhoto: Jubilee Celebration, 50 years of Monastic Life for Fr. Volker Futter, pictured with oblates and monks of Christ the King Priory. 

A photography contest, called Bridges, was sponsored by Hildegard Center for the Arts, in partnership with the Nebraska Tourism Commission and the Nebraska State Historical Society, to highlight historic or overlooked treasures in all 93 counties to celebrate the Sesquicentennial, or 150th birthday of Nebraska. Photographs of historical landmarks, buildings, cultural events or activities were to focus on how the subject serves as a bridge to connect Nebraskan’s with their culture and heritage—a bridge from the past to the present.

So guess what? My Nebraska birthday wish was granted!

I entered photographs of Christ the King Priory, the Benedictine monastery where my favorite monks live, to represent Colfax County. My photographs of the monastery were chosen to be part of a traveling exhibit and in Nebraska Tourism travel guides, posters, calendars and partnering websites. The Bridges Photo Call judges were world-renowned contributor to National Geographic Magazine and NEBRASKAland Magazine, Joel Sartore; University of Nebraska-Lincoln Professor Emeritus, George Tuck; and regular contributors to Nebraska Life Magazine, Bobbi and Steve Olson.

DSC_0397aPhoto: Christ the King Priory, the monastery where the monks reside.

So let me tell you the story of Christ the King Priory and how they are bridging the past with the present:

In the early 1930’s, two monks, Brothers Felix and Egbert, were sent to the United States from Münsterschwarzach Abbey in Germany. The Abbey, following the Rule of St. Benedict (dating back to the 6th century), felt threatened by the Nazi government. They were afraid their financial ability to support themselves and their missions around the world would be in jeopardy. They were, in fact, justified in their fear: the Abbey was seized during World War II and used as a hospital for German soldiers injured in the war.

Meanwhile, the two monks traveled throughout the United States, humbly accepting donations that allowed their mission work to continue. Their primary focus was on keeping their missions alive, particularly in Africa. If there was no income flow through donations, they could not continue their work, a vital component of the Benedictine motto, Ora et Labora (prayer and work).DSC_0589

By 1935, the monks found their permanent home in Schuyler, Nebraska. The Benedictine Mission House, as they were named, had its first location in the former Notre Dame Sisters Convent, an old house in town. By 1979, several more monks joined the monastic community and a new home was built into “Mission Hill”, just north of Schuyler, and named Christ the King Priory. Their new home was uniquely designed burrowed into a hill, symbolically representing their vow of stability. The building, visible only on one side with a chapel steeple rising out of the center of the hill, appears like an earth lodge or a teepee as if to say, “We are here to stay. You have supported us and we shall now support you. We honor your native past and we want to be part of your present and future.”DSC_0395a

The monks, while continuing to fundraise for missions around the world, became servants of Schuyler by building a retreat and conference center in 1997. St. Benedict Center, built on 160 acres of farmland across from Christ the King Priory, provides an oasis of peace for those who search for personal and spiritual growth. They welcome individuals and groups of all Christian denominations as they seek God in a peaceful and quiet setting for prayer, rest, and renewal; a special place to escape the noisy world and to be alone with God.

Another vow the Benedictine monks take is obedience, to listen carefully to what God is saying and to be present to community needs. As the population of Schuyler changed through the years with an increase in Hispanic immigration, this careful listening led the monks to provide legal immigration services and support through El Puente, in a joint partnership with Catholic Charities of Omaha.

From 1930 to 2016, from Germany to Schuyler, from a small house in town to a monastery on the hill, the monks of Christ the King Priory bridge the past to the present. The German monks who came only to secure financial help for their worldwide missions are now serving immigrants and visitors from all around the world in the community of Schuyler, Nebraska through their missions of St. Benedict Center and El Puente.

DSC_1067Photo: Münsterschwarzach Abbey, Germany

Münsterschwarzach Abbey, the mother house in Germany where Brother Felix and Egbert came from, eventually returned to its monastic roots after the war and celebrates 1200 years of prayer and work this summer.

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So I told you my Nebraska birthday wish, but I have to keep the photos secret until they hit the road on the traveling exhibit. You can visit the traveling exhibit of photos that won in each county at: 

The Great Plains Art Museum in Lincoln: January 6 – March 25, 2017
The Seward Civic Center: June 1 – July 28, 2017
The North Platte Prairie Arts Center: August 1 – September 22, 2017
The Norfolk Art Center: September 7 – October 26, 2017
The Alliance Carnegie Arts Center: September 26 – November 10, 2017
The Durham Museum in Omaha: November 14, 2017 – January 7, 2018

For more information about St. Benedict Center and Christ the King Priory see their websites or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest.  

For more information about Benedictine spirituality Fr. Mauritius Wilde, Prior of Christ the King Priory, addresses many topics on Discerning Hearts podcasts and Wilde Monk blog posts.

For more information about SoulFully You retreats and other blog posts.  

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