You are never too old to set another goal, or to dream a new dream.

never too old

My dad, Tom Blazek, had a dream to write a book about his hometown, Valparaiso, Nebraska—to create a timeline of its history and to share stories of growing up in a small town. Passionate about history, he would devour a book on a topic he loved—about World War II, the Civil War, the history of Lincoln or Nebraska. He could find bits and pieces about Valparaiso from different sources, but he had a dream of gathering it all into one book, from the birth of the small village up to the present. His love of reading about history turned into a passion for sharing with others.

For some, his ambition to write a book came as quite a surprise. My dad wasn’t a
particularly motivated student, he is the first to admit.  One classmate said he was the least likely of their class to ever write a book.  As a teenager, any reason was a legitimate one for skipping school. One afternoon, hanging out at the town gas station with his friends, my grandma (God-rest-her-soul-for-raising-five-boys) discovered his truancy, went to the gas station, and strongly encouraged him to get back to school. Mrs. Jean Ang, my dad’s 7th and 8th-grade teacher, commented, “the Blazek boys, they had a lot of life.” God love his teachers and parents for tolerating his alternative form of education. As a teacher, it’s important for me to remember that everyone learns differently. Regardless of what he did or didn’t learn in school, he always worked hard. 

grandma and pa blazek w boys
Grandma and Grandpa Blazek with the five boys that “had a lot of life”                 Jim, Tom, Don, Rick and Randy.

I’ve observed a work ethic in my dad that is unmatched. From delivering newspapers, farming and working at a gas station as a teenager; being a manager at Safeway grocery stores, working in dispatch, sales and management in the transportation industry; and, finally, in production and office management, my dad has ALWAYS worked hard, whether he liked his job or not.  And for many years he supplemented his full-time job with hauling jobs—cleaning out attics and basements, taking trash to the landfill, and helping people move their belongings.

He had a good example of work ethic in his own grandfather, Frank Blazek, an immigrant from Czechoslovakia, who walked twenty-some miles to work on Sunday nights from Valparaiso to Gooch’s Mill in Lincoln, lived in a rented room all week, and, then walked home on Friday night to bring his paycheck home.  And his own dad, Lod, worked wherever, whenever, doing whatever he could to make some money, even if the job took him a distance from home. Work wasn’t a choice. Work wasn’t about self-fulfillment or purpose or happiness. Work was a means to an end—it was food on the table.

So when my dad finally retired, he wasted no time getting to work on his dream (and if you know my dad, you understand there is no such thing as procrastinating or wasting time—he gets things done and works fast! And if there is a free moment, he washes his car.)

Each morning, rain or shine, for three years, he drove to downtown Lincoln, found a cheap place to park for four hours and walked to the Nebraska History Museum. While reading through archives, he took copious notes by hand. He read through every edition of the town newspaper, The Valparaiso Avalanche (1878-1887), followed by every edition of The Valparaiso Visitor (1887-1945), before diving into the Wahoo newspaper, the county seat, for anything about Valparaiso from 1945 on. Over 600 hours he spent at the Nebraska History and Saunders County Museums.

After gathering a morning’s worth of information, he went home to type up his findings, adding old family and town photos and local advertisements throughout the text. And when he had questions about what he read, he tracked down people he could talk to. He interviewed dozens of people who grew up in Valparaiso, often accompanied by his brother, Don. People loved to share their stories and some even offered up old photos and newspapers that weren’t available in the archives. My Uncle Don said, “I was amazed to hear people tell their stories when asked a question about the past. One question could ignite a person’s memory, some that probably had trouble remembering what they did last week, but, man, how they enjoyed reminiscing about their youth!” 

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Tom Blazek with his first shipment of “My Valparaiso”.

Stories are as important for those who hear them as the one doing the telling. Being listened to validates our experiences; we matter when we are heard. When we were kids, my brother and I would beg for stories about our dad’s growing up shenanigans, a window into his life before we were in it. His stories helped us see what life was like for him and helped connect us to the generations before us. But these stories are lost if not written down. Writing this book was part fact-finding and part storytelling, both his own and others. 

My dad had a goal to have his book completed, printed and ready for distribution at the 2014 Valparaiso Heritage Days, an event that hundreds would attend. My dad was a town hero that day. Tom Blazek, the most unlikely person in town to write a book, had accomplished just that.

The skeptics who didn’t think he could do it or who didn’t think people would spend $25 on a book, were the same folks who couldn’t put the book down. (Pictured below on top-right is Mrs. Ang, his teacher—she still looks skeptical, doesn’t she?)

People, scattered throughout the American Legion Hall, were leafing through “My Valparaiso”, reading, laughing, reminiscing, and sharing their own stories.  It was a special day of recognition for my dad, a goal accomplished, and a dream come true. The response was overwhelming—people bought not just one copy, but two, three or more autographed copies for gifts.

Valparaiso Heritage Days
Top left: me and my dad. Top right: Mrs. Ang and my dad.

Over the next weeks and months, the reaction to the book was overwhelming. People loved it, ordering more copies, calling friends in distant states and telling them about it. From all over Nebraska and the country, people called and wrote to order a book or share their stories. My dad heard from people in every region of the United States, including Arizona, California, Oregon, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, North Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Connecticut, Massachusetts Pennsylvania, Virginia, Georgia, Texas, and Oklahoma.

Who knew that the small town of Valparaiso had scattered its townspeople so far? Who knew “My Valparaiso”, and my dad’s work, could have such a far-reaching impact?

The conversations that followed unearthed new stories and information; a second book was born. Some, like sweet old Edna Johnson, who enjoyed the first book so much, pre-ordered “My Valparaiso II” before it was even finished, but, sadly, didn’t live long enough to see it published. Another lady, in her eighties, said she read things about her family that she had never heard before.

my valp1a
Published in the Wahoo Newspaper

“My Valparaiso” and “My Valparaiso II” are chock full of events and anecdotes that warm the heart and keep the history of the town alive—everything from tornados, fires and blizzards; to the first automobile, electric lights, and pool halls; to horse and buggy accidents, train wrecks, burglaries and even suspected murder; difficult times during the Great Depression, illnesses like hog cholera and scarlet fever; and festivities including Fourth of July celebrations, the traveling circus, auctions and church gatherings. You’ll also find a list of every person from Valparaiso who served in World War II, every graduate from Valparaiso High School and every business ever established, along with photos and advertisements that span the years.

A topic of great concern for many years was alcohol—would the town be dry or not? In 1908, apparently “German and Bohemian immigrants brought with them the thirst for beer.” But Valparaiso was a dry town, off and on, for several years. The town newspaper reported in 1909, “If Valparaiso goes dry again next spring, the Visitor will be for sale. We, the editor, must simply have an occasional nip in order to ward off despondency and keep up a business appearance.” In 1912, fifty drunks were caught celebrating the 4th of July, and concerned wife, Lillie McMaster, took out an ad in the paper saying, “I hereby forbid any person or persons to give or sell my husband any kind of liquor. This applies to the saloon keepers of Valparaiso and Touhy.”

One of my favorite stories that my dad told, included in the first book, is the time he blew up his dad’s car. Yup, he blew up his dad’s car. My dad and a few of his friends had a plan to drive into Lincoln and “cruise through Kings on O Street”, a popular past-time in 1962. The first attempt, after some likely reckless driving, resulted in the “knocked-out rear end of the car.” They needed different transportation and my dad had a bright idea: “My folks, along with another couple, were in Lincoln… my brothers and I were told not to touch the car. Knowing my Dad always checked the speedometer, I unhooked it.” But then they needed gas. (You can see where this is heading.) Siphoning gas from one vehicle to another was the second bright idea: “We had a pretty big stream of gas running between the two cars when Richard Draper lit his cigarette and accidently dropped it causing the gas to go up in flames…and burning the whole back end of the car. Needless to say, when my folks got home I was in big trouble.”

My dad is a lively storyteller (he has pretty good material) and is an attentive listener. What a gift Tom Blazek gave to those he listened to and to the folks who learned something new about their relatives because of his books. What a gift it was to tell the stories that otherwise would have been lost and for the childhood memories that were stirred. What a legacy that will live on because of my dad’s dream and hard work! 

And yes, there will be another book. My dad says, “I may not live long enough to do Book 3 but people keep sending me stuff.”  He’s also been asked to write a book about Touhy, the town a few miles north of Valparaiso. He thinks he’ll have that one published in about a year.

This, among many other things, is what I’ve learned from my dad: Where we come from is important, but even more so is what we leave behind. 
“If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.” -Martin Luther

For more information, see Valparaiso, Nebraska Memories on Facebook. 

 

 

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.

me1

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 Mother’s Blessing

 

I thought it would be a little tacky to take a photo of a mother and child I didn’t know this morning in church. I was so tempted to sneak a cell phone shot and apologize later if caught.  It was a tender, intimate moment that I wish could have been captured. But I hold it in my heart instead.

Imagine this: an expectant mother (I would say about 34 weeks into her pregnancy, if I were a betting woman) and her 7-ish year old daughter. The young girl, head resting on her mother’s belly, was tenderly caressing and then, curiously poking at the outline of a baby foot or hand in her mother’s tummy. This simple gesture was a blessing for her sibling, the unborn baby—a welcoming, a communication of love and hope.

Blessing my unborn baby

It is an awesome responsibility for expectant parents to consider bringing a new life into the world.  An avid reader, I couldn’t get my hands on enough books about parenting—parenting an infant, a toddler, a teenager.  I wanted to be the best and most prepared mother I could be, but I experienced an information overload, even without the not-invented-yet, scary, paranoid, hypochondriac rabbit-hole called the Internet, and I started to freak myself out, thinking about all that could go wrong and the weight of this responsibility. quote2

So I scaled it back a notch, deciding, gratefully, to focus only on the moment, on welcoming the life of my unborn baby. In the womb, a baby hears, feels, moves and senses. Despite the 1980’s new agey-ness of the title, I read a book when I was pregnant with Jessica called “Communing with the Spirit of Your Unborn Child”.  I believed that “Every parent has an unceasing responsibility to the child to be the light, to represent the light.” I prayerfully welcomed the baby we had so desired, sending her light and blessings while she was still in my womb. Throughout my pregnancy, I documented my thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams and prayed that we would be good parents.

pregnancy collage

When Jessica was a toddler, I read “The Blessings” by Gary Smalley and John Trent, about the value of blessing a child with words, touch, visions of a positive future and more. Blessing a child doesn’t just happen once; blessing a child continues through their life in a variety of ways.

Recently, Jessica asked her dad and me for a blessing.  While visiting Jessica in Washington DC during her senior internship, she broke it to us, ever so gently, that she had fallen in love with DC. She said she really wanted to pursue working there after college graduation.

And then she said, “Do I have your blessing?” My 21-year-old confident, brilliant, talented, highly employable daughter wanted her mom and dad to say it was okay for her to move away from our hometown and follow her dream.collage2

It was a touching, respectful-of-her-parents-kind-of-request, but she must not have realized that she already had our blessing. Our blessing has always been for her to pursue her dreams, to find her place in the world and to become a joy-filled, independent adult.

SoulCollage ® has become an intuitive, yet intentional, way for me to pray, so when my daughter asked for a blessing, I created an image, a blessing card, that could be a visual way to pray for her—to pray that she listen to her intuition, follow her dreams, and know that she would always have our blessing.

Blessings2a

I’ve been praying with the blessing card for several months, but recently decided to share it with Jessica for an end-of-year celebration at her sorority house. The images I had used to create the collage meant something to me, had help me capture a mother’s blessing, but I added these words to share with Jessica. With her permission, I share them here:

As we said your nighttime prayer as a child, our hand on your head, we gave you our blessing. God bless Jessica’s mind, body and spirit. We give you our blessing now for your journey, wherever it takes you. The bond between a baby elephant and its mother is the closest of any animal on earth—this image represents our connectedness as family, no matter the distance between us. In an African village near a Benedictine monastery, it is tradition for a mother to paint her face when her children are growing into adulthood.  She hides her emotions and opinions so her children will forge their own paths and make their own decisions without the influence or bias of their parents. Our blessing for you is that you bloom into the Jessica you are meant to be. You have been more precious than jewels to us and we look forward to seeing you become a jewel to the world. We love you and give you our blessing as you fly into your becoming.

baby JessA

Blessing Jessica, as my grown-up child, is a journey of becoming comfortable with the uncertainty and the many possibilities for her future, letting go slowly, surely, courageously. The blessing card is as much a reminder for me as it is for Jessica.

This morning, watching the young girl tenderly embrace her unborn sibling, it reminded me of the vision we had for Jessica before she was even born-that she become fully who God intends her to be.  It is a prayerful process, a standing-witness-to the becoming of this young woman, who as an unborn child was welcomed and blessed into this universe so that she could become who she is meant to be. She has our blessing, then and now.

 “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.    -e. e. cummings

Circle of Friends: Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold.

And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit. ~Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Our Circle lost a dear sister this week.
DSC_1136aJudy passed away only a year or so after being diagnosed with a rare, incurable, fast-growing cancer. For the last several weeks of her life, Judy was unable to leave her bed and wanted
few visitors, but it was important for our Circle to continue sending our love and prayers. Even if we weren’t physically present, we wanted her to feel that we held her in our heart. Each of us committed to a day of the week that we would send Judy some kind of card, note or greeting.

Judy was a lover of SoulCollage®—she came to my first pilot retreat at St. Benedict Center and fell in love with the process. She started meeting weekly to cut, paste and create with our friend, Beth. The practice became a form of expression and prayer for her and she even shared it with her daughters and grandchildren on one of their last vacations together on Captiva Island. Making and sending a SoulCollage® card to honor Judy and our Circle was a form of creative prayer for me.

Continue reading “Circle of Friends: Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold.”

The Right Book at the Right Time: A Divine Encounter

“Because for some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth, what a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you.”—Annie Lamott

I believe the right book comes along at just the right time.

As both bibliophile and believer in a God of surprises, how could I not? Whether at home or away, SolariumI always have a book, or ten, by my bedside. I like to have choices. I have dozens of books on shelves I want to re-read (and do) (and will). I also have dozens of books that I haven’t read yet. So when I go away, I pack 3 or 4 to choose from depending on my mood.  When I’m at St. Benedict Center, sometimes the books don’t even leave my suitcase; instead I let Serendipity choose for me. I go into the solarium, peruse the book titles and wait for one to speak to me. And the right book always presents itself. There is never a wrong choice. Continue reading “The Right Book at the Right Time: A Divine Encounter”

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