I created a SoulCollage® card for my daughter when she was 21 and going through what some Millennial research experts dubbed a “quarter-life crisis.” At that point in her life she was going through the oh-my-gosh-where-did-the last three-years-of-college-go-?-I-still-don’t-know-what-I-want-to-be-when-I-grow-up-and-there’s-only-one-year-left-of-college-until-the-real-world-hits-me-upside-the- head and-my-parents-declare-my-financial-emancipation!
Fast forward four years, and she reaches another crossroads. Of course, wise mothers know that these crossroads are the markers of a life well-lived. Life is full of forks in the road and sometimes a few detours. There is never a straight road with easy answers about which direction to go. We come to accept that normal is the in-between spaces of what was and what is to come, while we practice trust, patience, and big listening, an opportunity for Life Lectio.
It was during this time of in-between, the summer of her quarter-life crisis, that I created a SoulCollage® card for Jessica’s 21st birthday. It represented my advice/prayer for her. I hoped it would be an image for her to practice Visio Divina, deep and big listening to her intuition. I share again the image and words of Just Listen: Continue reading “Just Listen: Big decisions require big listening”→
I don’t know Kate Spade. I don’t own any of her purses or other products. I’m not fashion-conscious by any stretch of the imagination—my daughter/personal shopper will vouch for that. But the news that Kate Spade—a beautiful, wealthy, creative woman—has ended her life has me in tears.
There are many unanswered questions for those left behind when someone takes their own life. I wonder about this woman I do not know. Were there demons in her head that told her she wasn’t enough, that there was no hope for healing her pain, that she was a burden to those who love her? I wonder about her husband, her child and her close friends. I wonder if she reached out for help. I wonder why her love for her daughter seems not to have been enough to override her feelings of despair. So many questions…
I immediately reached out to my own daughter—“If you ever ever ever feel that kind of depression or desperation, please please please reach out…It is never true—that evil voice in our head that says life isn’t worth it or that pain cannot be overcome. If there is a devil, that is it, that voice. It is a liar.” I thought of a former student who loved Kate Spade and her products—I sent her a message too. “This is shocking news but a testament that no one is immune.”
So often we think that the rich and famous, or educated, funny, spiritual (or any of the qualities we covet), do not struggle with depression and despair. But they are human, too. Even Kate Spade, who chose to end her life, must have felt she had no choice. There is a mystery to suicide. There is much we do not know or understand, but we should not blame those involved and/or think that it happens only to others.
We are all vulnerable. I lost a friend to suicide over a decade ago—and it still makes me sad and angry. I have also had bouts of depression, despair and the occasional voice of the devil that rears its ugly head in my thoughts. We are all vulnerable to becoming a victim of suicide—either one who is left behind, as one who struggles with despairing thoughts or the one who completes this final act.
In the weeks before my dear friend, Colleen, decided to take her own life, she suffered from immense physical, spiritual, psychological and emotional pain. No one can feel the pain of another or take it away but, still, I hope she received some comfort that she was met in her pain through conversations with and prayers from her loved ones.
I used to think this was enough—to be available and compassionate, to pray and forgive. But I think there is one more vital thing we can do for ourselves and others—tell them NOT to leave, beg them NOT to listen to the voice of the devil, the liar in their head.
And as you encounter someone who seems at risk of suicide, consider the advice from St. Benedict, “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ” and treat each person as if they were Christ himself, particularly yourself. You are the Christ-bearer and worthy of patient waiting for the dark night of the soul to pass. For an excellent article and insight from a Catholic perspective, read A Catholic Approach to the Suicide Epidemic.
I heard the joyous greeting, “Happy Mother’s Day!”, many times this weekend. But I was thinking since it is the first of this holiday I have spent without my daughter, what makes a “happy” Mother’s Day?
Although I would love to be with Jessica, what makes a Mother’s Day truly happy (and this mother’s heart full on ordinary days as well), is having a happy child. This is all a mother desires—to know that her child is happy, learning, growing and always becoming.
A year ago, just one day before her college graduation, Jessica accepted a full-time research assistant position in Washington, DC. Just a few weeks later, in a car packed to the gills, she made the 1200-mile journey to move into a house with two roommates and begin her first full-time job.
In this past year, Jessica has done some serious adulting—working 40 hours a week, making decisions about her health insurance and retirement savings, learning on-the-job about social policy for low-income families, and challenging herself to grow personally and professionally. She’s had fun visiting new sites and cities, enjoying solitude, making new friends, and finding love. She’s made a few trips home for the holidays, made weekly phone calls to her grandparents and has hosted both of her parents as a guest in her home. She is becoming and it is beautiful to behold.
“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.” (from A Mother’s Blessing)
“When Jessica was just a toddler, I created a bedtime prayer that I blessed her with each night…Some nights, in a hurry, it was shortened to “God bless Jessica’s mind, body and spirit. Amen.” Still, it remains my prayer for Jessica as she continues to become, giving birth to herself over and over again, becoming more herself.
God bless Jessica’s mind so that she make good decisions and choices.
God bless Jessica’s body so that she grow strong and healthy and safe. God bless Jessica’s spirit so that she know the love of God and others. Amen.”
(from Jessica Becoming)
There isn’t anything that could make my Mother’s Day any happier than knowing that my prayers have been, and are being, answered. Jessica has made good decisions and choices, she is strong and healthy, she does know the love of God and others. And she continues to—she is becoming.
“I journey with Jessica in her becoming. As she grows, I grow; I re-center, reset and adjust to our new way of relating. I am learning and re-creating the role of mother as Jessica is becoming. We are both becoming.”
When your heart is full because your child is happy, then every day is Mother’s Day.
A Marriage Made of Moments is a blog post I wrote for our 30th anniversary last year. For our 31-derful anniversary, I share a revised post with updated photos, new “moments” and fresh reflections… because a lot can happen in one year.
A marriage is made of moments. When you string them all together, you get a picture of a life built together. A marriage isn’t made, once and for all, when the I-dos are exchanged. A marriage is constantly being re-created; it is always in the process of becoming.
A marriage goes through seasons: the spring of new life and hope, the summer of comfort and security, the autumn of changes and letting go, the winter of sadness and despair. A marriage embraces all seasons. It can feel like the carefree days of summer—laughter, joy and spontaneity; and it can also be like the frigid days of winter, where bundling up and taking shelter provides the only comfort that “this too shall pass”. A marriage will not survive without adapting to, enduring and celebrating the change of seasons.
“We have discovered each season to be a stepping stone in a great circle of life. Round and round they go, no season ever exactly the same as the year before, each one teaching us something more about who we are and about how life is going to be lived. We have come to know this circle of life an ongoing spiral of growth, bringing ever fuller and deeper wisdom into our lived experiences.” The Circle of Life: The Hearts Journey Through the Seasons, Joyce Rupp and Macrina Wiederkehr
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
For Earth day, I was invited to write an article for the April 2016 SoulCollage® newsletter,SoulCollage® Community Update,reflecting on how creating with images of nature can cultivate a sense of gratitude for God’s creation and, ultimately, impact how we protect our earth’s resources. It’s an honor to share it with SoulFully You readers as well:
As Earth Day (April 22) approaches, I’ve been noticing that images of nature appear in nearly every one of my SoulCollage® cards. Plants and animals, water and fire; the diamond and the rough ground-rugged, rocky, sandy, earthy. Trees-naked and blooming, knotted and gnarled branches. Streams or floods of light and all things celestial-moonrises, sunsets, stars, planets, wide open sky. And every color of the rainbow-red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, and each color in between.
My Fairy World
by Jodi Blazek Gehr
These SoulCollage® pictures have been calling me to stand up, pay attention, listen, prayerfully consider, and take action. They have encouraged me to reflect on my role in creation – how I enrich, nurture and care for our earth and all that draws life from it.
I Am One Who innocently, carefully, lightly treads through my part of creation, where I have been planted. I am as little as the lily pads and as vast as the stars and planets. I am a part of the whole, keeping balance on a very small twig of space and time. I am embraced, protected, held up by the wings of love.
We think of fairies as little nature spirits, without realizing that as human beings, we are ourselves nature spirits! It is nearly impossible to separate ourselves from our environment. We breathe the exhalations of trees. Our bodies go through similar seasons of new cells birthing, old cells dying and being shed. Our bodies are in a constant process of re-creating, living and dying, using the minerals, water, and earth from plants and animals and returning again to dust.
Spending time in and seeing the beauty of nature has been for me the first step to taking action to protect it. I see myself as responsible to and for the small space in which I live. My seemingly insignificant efforts-planting flowers and trees, recycling paper and plastic, remembering to take my own bag shopping, using energy-saving light bulbs, buying gifts that are consumable, not buying products that use excessive packaging -can have an impact that reaches far beyond my little place and time. My physical body is not the whole of creation, but my spirit is vast, and my actions leave an impression.
The images of nature hold meaning for my life. When I see a tree, I also see growth, changing seasons, pruning, the effect of time. I see roots intermingled, each tree surviving and thriving because of the other. I connect to my process of self-discovery and growth, my inward journey that is beautiful and painful, at times agonizingly slow and, at the same time, too quick.
Surrender to Creation
by Jodi Blazek Gehr
I Am One Who believes in the divine birthing of our planet and the life-force that is poured out for us by our mere existence in this dynamic, evolving, growing, breathing earth home. I Am One Who exists as part of this environment, receiving the mysterious flow of energy and outpouring of nourishment with open hands. I bow my head at the splendor of shades and shapes, the rebirth of nature through the sacred spirals of the seasons, the purpose and patterns that are sometimes evident and always sought after.
I believe we are dying inside when we don’t spend time in nature, whether in stillness or activity. If we don’t get outside and enjoy nature, we don’t realize it is hurting and needs our care. We run the risk of seeing earth as existing only to meet our needs, rather than seeing our role as caretaker of the earth.
“Unless we begin to align ourselves with nature, nature will be endangered and our own lives with it. Our own souls with it, in fact. We are here as part of creation, not as consumers of it. We are here to care for this planet, not to exploit it. We are here to find our proper place in it, to grow with it spiritually as well as physically.”
-Joan Chittister, Author, Two Dogs and a Parrot: What Our Animal Friends Can Teach Us About Life.
My Source Card: Let There Be Light by Jodi Blazek Gehr
I Am One Who, in darkness, is breathed into being and held in the light. Leaf or life-all is dependent on the Light.
Creating with images of nature can influence our sense of gratitude for God’s creation, our sense of oneness with nature and, ultimately, how we respond to the call to conserve and save our earth’s resources. My SoulCollage® cards have heightened my awareness for my role, no matter how insignificant or great, in the care of creation. This earth is my home. I have been brought into being to do my part.
So how am I going to celebrate this Earth Day? I will spend time in thanksgiving, honoring that in God’s world every day is Earth Day. I will remember my place on the planet, my role in respecting the earth. I will take a walk. I will look up at the sky. I will touch the ground. I will enjoy the many colors of creation, particularly the spring purpling. I agree with Alice Walker: this is where our contribution begins – noticing.
“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.”
– Alice Walker, The Color Purple
Jodi Blazek Gehr is a high school Business teacher, SoulCollage® Facilitator and retreat leader. She writes a blog called SoulFully You exploring and encouraging creativity and spirituality through a variety of prayerful, creative and contemplative practices. Jodi is a Benedictine Oblate at Christ the King Priory in Schuyler, Nebraska, a mother, wife, and friend.
Last year,SoulFully You readers were challenged to share their love of nature using images and creativity for a project that my daughter and I collaborated on titled, “Soul Collage® and the Environment”. To view all Earth Day entries, including cards and responses from readers, and the research paper that Jessica submitted for her Environmental Politics class at Nebraska Wesleyan University, see Earth Day blog entries.
Last summer, my 21-year-old daughter, Jessica, was going through what some Millennial research experts and demographers have dubbed a “quarter-life crisis”—the oh-my-gosh-where-did-the last three-years-of-college-go-?-I-still-don’t-know-what-I-want-to-be-when-I- grow-up-and-there’s-only-one-year-left-of-college-until-the-real-world-hits-me-upside-the- head and-my-parents-declare-my- financial-emancipation!
It isn’t easy living in the in-between. Jessica is not alone. There about 30 million young Millenials in the U.S looking for jobs, anticipating student loan payments, saving for their future, creating new relationships and worrying. They ask: Where will I live? Where will I work? Who and when will I marry? Unfortunately, there are many young people who make hasty decisions to avoid the discomfort of uncertainty.
My high school students share their greatest fear is making a mistake in their career choice. They believe if they don’t pick the perfect career, they will be miserable for 30 or 40 years working a job they do not like. They feel the weight of a lifetime decision rather than a decision that will lead to a fork in the road where, eventually, they will make their next decision. Life is full of forks in the road and sometimes a few detours.
There is a lot of pressure, real or perceived, from parents, teachers, colleges and friends for young people to make career decisions, perhaps earlier than some are able to. “What are you majoring in?” and “Where are you going to college?” are the most common questions asked of high school seniors. And college seniors get “So what are you doing after graduation? Do you have a job yet? And do you have a boyfriend?” They want to be able to answer those questions, and answer them quickly and perfectly. There is little patience for the unfolding of what is to come.
During this time of in-between, the summer of her quarter-life crisis, I created a SoulCollage® card for Jessica’s 21st birthday that represented my advice/prayer for her.
I remember the carefree little-girl-Jessica who ran and played and laughed and didn’t worry about a darn thing. Just a sketch of yourself then. Happy, yes, but not fully who you are to become. Within you is that little girl you have always been and always will be— the spirit of Jessica, Jessica Becoming. Stay connected to those little voices and playful characters, the pondering and contemplating spirits, the fairy spirits within you.
Listen carefully. Put your ear to the ground. Put your ear to the seashell. Do you hear the ocean? Just listen. Listen to the sound of your environment, amplified. Listen to the ground of Being from which you come. Listen to the people and experiences that God places in your life. This is the Universe speaking to you. Listen and learn.
Listen to that still, small voice inside. It is God speaking to you. You are a woman now, not just a little girl. As you strive for adult things—relationships, jobs, experiences— don’t forget who you are. You are that little girl with no worries. Work hard, set goals, make plans, challenge yourself. Keep becoming more of you. Be enthusiastic, not hasty. Be active and receptive. Be silent, humble, meek and patient. You don’t need to be all-knowing…the road you take will always lead back to you. There is no hurry. Just be you.
Pray, listen and surrender. There is not just one right choice for you. Life is full of decisions and most of them are not mistakes; you are simply choosing a path at the fork in the road. One decision will lead to the next fork. You will have ample opportunity to readjust your direction. Trust the journey.
And even if you make a “mistake,” you will find your way back to the path. You will continue to learn, grow and self-correct when things aren’t feeling quite right. Remember nothing is set in stone. Just follow your path, trusting it will lead you right where you need to be. Cultivate your intuition; trust yourself; trust God. Surrender to Surprise. Just Listen.
Surrender to Uncertainty
“To be uncomfortable with uncertainty requires courage…we must try and make space for ambiguity.” –Esther de Waal
It isn’t just high school and college students that are uncomfortable with uncertainty. It’s challenging at any age. It’s challenging for me, despite lots of practice. Embracing the unknown is a way to enter into trust. It is surrendering to surprise and standing witness to the unfolding of a Divine Plan.
God has many backup plans for us; we don’t need to have a perfect vision of what is to come. So much of our disappointment in ourselves is wrapped up in our own expectations. By surrendering to surprise, by surrendering an idealized version of our life, we create an opening for God to work in mysterious and more perfect ways than we could have envisioned. We all fall short of the glory of God; our pursuit of perfection is illusory and can never meet our expectations.
Jess had a little dose of “adulting” when she worked a one-semester internship in
Washington DC. She cooked, cleaned, went grocery shopping, budgeted her money, traveled alone. Dipping her toe into the river of the working world has given her confidence that all will be well. She knows she is so fortunate to have a home, food, clothes, a desire for meaningful work and a resume brimming with education, experience, skills and connections that will help her make the first steps to being a gainfully employed college graduate in….OMG…in 8 WEEKS!
There is so only so much a parent can do for their child, a teacher for her student. There comes a time of letting go, of trusting they have learned (some of) who they are and who they are becoming. For Jessica, and my students, I pray for their peace, not to be worried or fearful; to find a vocation they are passionate about that gives them purpose, meaning and contributes positively to the world. I want them to know “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” -Julian of Norwich
And for my child (as written in Jessica Becoming): “I journey with Jessica in her becoming. As she grows, I grow; I re-center, re-set and adjust to our new way of relating. I am learning and re-creating the role of mother as Jessica is becoming. We are both becoming.” This mothering, this adulting, these quarter-life and mid-life crises….they are part of the journey.
I have won and I have lost I got it right sometimes But sometimes I did not Life’s been a journey I’ve seen joy, I’ve seen regret Oh and You have been my God Through all of it
Seeing the beauty of nature is the first step to taking action to protect it. Unless we can appreciate the oneness we have with creation, we will do very little to protect it.
“Let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.” –Pope Francis
For Earth Day last year,SoulFully You readers were challenged to share their love of nature using images and creativity for a project that my daughter and I collaborated on titled, “Soul Collage® and the Environment”. To view all Earth Day entries, including cards and responses from readers, and the research paper that Jessica submitted for her Environmental Politics class at Nebraska Wesleyan University, see Earth Day blog entries.
For Earth day this year, I have been invited to write an article for the April 2016 SoulCollage® newsletter, SoulCollage® Community Update,reflecting on how creating with images of nature can impact and influence our sense of gratitude for God’s creation, our sense of belonging in and oneness with nature and, ultimately, how we respond to the call to conserve and save our earth’s resources.
I would love your insight and feedback! Please consider sharing your reaction to the SoulCollage® cards posted on this page by responding to any or all of the writing prompts.
What is the effect of one (or more) cards on you?
What does it say to you about God’s creation?
Consider writing an “I am one who” statement or using a card to pray with or meditate on during this week. Does the meaning of the card change or deepen as you “read” it differently?
How does this blog and/or the images inspire you to action? Consider how you might conserve and save earth’s resources.
What inner shifts or feelings arise when you contemplate your responses.
Be creative. Give yourself time to savor the images. Watch and listen for what bubbles up within.
Share your writing in the comments, send through Facebook messages or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also consider creating your own card and sharing how that process impacted you.
“Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another.” Pope Francis, Laudato Si
Today marks my tenth day in Washington DC on my semester-long journey. I’m interning at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) as a communications intern in the State Fiscal Project. CBPP is an organization that pursues federal and state policies designed to reduce poverty and inequality while also restoring fiscal responsibility. Here are 10 things I’ve learned in 10 days.
1. I’ve learned to walk everywhere.
Every day I have a twenty minute walk to and from work. Admittedly, I’ve wanted to use Uber on more than one occasion (but I haven’t). I start my day heading out of the CHIP house in dress clothes and Birkenstocks. Because, let’s face it, is there anything better than Birks? No. When I finally get to work my hair was not in the condition as when I left: straight to wavy or vice versa. And, my clothes don’t feel or smell as clean. BUT, I have a sense of accomplishment that I convinced myself to walk. Not that I have much choice. Lucky I got to ditch the panty hose after day one. Thank god for business casual.
“Human beings are not born once and for all the day their mothers give birth to them, but life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.” ~ Gabriel Garcia Marquez
“I know that I’m not the person that I will be…I am still becoming. I see this in my work, my marriage, my relationships…they are all in the process of becoming.
I see this in my child. Jessica turns 21 years old”….TODAY! “My baby, toddler, teenager…. now, a young woman. Jessica has always been who she is and yet she is becoming.” (Earlier post, The Grandeur of God: Beholding and Becoming)