A Story Behind Everything

“However well satisfied you are with your own skill or intelligence,
never forget how much there is that remains unknown to you.”
-Imitation of Christ, Thomas à Kempis

There’s so much we don’t know, so much we don’t see, so much we can’t understand. There is a story behind everything and we aren’t always privy to it.

On a recent country drive, I stumbled upon a cemetery I had never seen before. It was an old cemetery surrounded by, likely, the original iron fence and arched gate.


I find the old gate breathtaking: the rust over the exquisite spirals and twists on the finials and posts; the contrast of brown and green grasses; the juxtaposition of birth and death, new and old, all at once. I wonder: How many people have passed through that gate? How many tears shed at the graves of loved ones?  I wonder when flowers were last placed on a grave.

The gate remains locked now, and instead, a simpler entrance and a few graveled paths intersect to help visitors find their beloved. Only symbolic now, the fence and gate remain part of this sacred site and its story.

I continue my journey for miles down a country road with no houses, no people, and no other cars. Passing by a wooded area, I notice several old vehicles behind the limbs and brush, so easily missed that I turned around at the next intersection to drive by again. Taking a closer look from many angles and directions, I photographed the old truck. I wondered when it’s dying day had come and it was left to become part of the landscape. When had it last been driven to town? How many children had ridden in the back of the truck, wind blowing in their hair, or perhaps more recently, used it as a jungle gym? Continue reading “A Story Behind Everything”

When the Dust Settles

“In dreams, spiritual reality breaks into our life…In our conscious life, we are often blind and deaf to God.  We overlook what God wants to tell us.  We listen solely to our own thoughts and those of the people around us and fail to hear God’s voice.  For this reason, God must be made perceptible in our dreams.”  Anselm Grün, Dreams on the Spiritual Journey

I trust the language of dreams. I hear from the deepest part of myself, the part of me that knows the Divine beyond my thoughts or beliefs or ego. I have spent years listening to and working with the images of dreams in prayer, spiritual direction and journaling learning to trust that I can trust my dreams. My dreams always bring insight, often provide solutions, and, more recently, give me courage.


Recently I had a dream that my daughter and I were driving down a road to our home. While we were driving near a large building under construction, there was a huge explosion that spewed debris and dust in every direction, plummeting from the sky, dipping sideways, flying through the air. There were cars, smashed along the road, that had been hit by flying debris. Despite poor visibility, we continued driving. I may have told Jessica, or at least I was thinking, that we needed to keep moving forward; that stopping, even though we could not see through the dust in front of us, would put us in greater jeopardy. Even though it was frightening, we had to move forward. But I also knew we needed to slow down. Move forward cautiously and courageously—this was the insight I heard as we drove through the flying dust and debris. Frightened and, yet, confident, we safely reached the other side of the explosion. The view was clear, the dust had settled, we were out of harm’s way.

The dream wasn’t a huge surprise—there’s a lot going on in our life right now. Uncertainty and changes, surprises, disappointments, some anticipation and some fear. The dream captures the ambiguity that is our life lately.  If we are truly honest with ourselves, we live with this ambiguity every day under the illusion that all is just the way it should be and always will be.


But we can never know what is right ahead of us, when the dust and debris will create chaos in our life. We can’t anticipate everything. And we can’t necessarily hurry through the life-is-under-construction experience either. We just stay the road, moving forward cautiously and courageously.

I reflected on this dream when I had the opportunity to drive country roads this past weekend—a favorite soul-comforting practice I do for myself. I love the slow, sauntering, stop-the-car-and-take-a-picture-on-the-side-of-the-road-in-solitude moments.  I must admit, though, this past weekend there were too many obligations on my calendar and the sauntering was at a quicker pace than I like.

In Nebraska, it’s get-those-tractors-out-of-the-barn season; and if you’ve never driven behind a tractor, they drive verrrry slow, kicking up a bunch of dust (God bless the driver’s corn-planting souls). There is no driving closely behind a tractor.  You won’t go anywhere fast and you can’t see a darn thing. One must be patient.


It made me think of my dream. Drive slow, be cautious, move forward and wait for the dust to settle. With a little patience one can see what otherwise might be overlooked. One can see more clearly when the dust has settled. I think this is true for country roads and for life. I’m waiting for the dust to settle…

I share with you some of the views from my country road drives near Schuyler and Columbus, Nebraska. Happy dreams, slow-sauntering and blessings on your journey this week! May the dust settle quickly. 

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. – Isaiah 43:2

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“…if you know and have been affected by your dreams you will feel in yourself a thread of meaning and purpose that is part of something much bigger than yourself.” -John A. Sanford, Dreams: God’s Forgotten Language

For more blog posts on Country Roads.   


Seeing With New Eyes

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. –Marcel Proust


Photography is my hobby. Maybe a professional photographer would take issue with me for using the word “photography”.  I have no professional training. I haven’t taken any adult education classes, even though it’s on my want-to-do-that-one-of-these-days list. I did take a one-hour training session that was offered free when my husband, Joe, purchased our camera. But I don’t remember much. 😦

We bought a brand name camera with lots of bells and whistles and a higher-than-amateur-photographer price tag to take photos of our daughter playing high school sports.

Our thinking: she’s our only child and she’s only in high school sports one time.  We need to not screw up these special moments with a cheap camera. Joe also thought he might take up the hobby and I thought he could use one, so spending money on a pretty awesome camera was justifiable on two fronts.Desktop6

We loved the click-click-click feature of the camera (the official name escapes me). We were able to capture every volleyball or tennis serving stance that a player could have and lots of high-fives, action shots and team pictures.


We really enjoyed capturing these moments, but long story, short….Joe never took up the hobby, but I did (he’s into technology, so it’s okay). I took my camera (yes, it became my camera) when I went on monthly retreats to St. Benedict Center and on my country road drives.  I found myself needing the camera next to me on the front seat, stopping ever half-mile or so to capture another beautiful view. And now that we live on the edge of town with magnificent views, the camera has a permanent place by our back door; no shelf in the closet needed.

A slide show of photos from our backyard taken in January and February, 2016:

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Photography is a way to slow down and gaze deeply, noticing things missed in our rushed lives. -Christine Valters Painter, Eyes of the Heart

But back to the one-hour crash course in using a camera—both Joe and I could have taken the course after purchasing the camera. I can’t remember how long we had the camera before I eventually signed up for the course (more than 2 years and less than 5, that’s all I can narrow it down to), but eventually I did attend, albeit sans camera.

Yup, I went to a camera training session without said camera, in a typical hurry. Luckily, I was close to home, sped (of course) back to get it and ended up missing the first 10 minutes of the training. And being slightly embarrassed that I didn’t appear to be serious about my “new” camera.

Bottom line, I’m not sure I really want to take the time to learn about my camera. I say I do, but really it’s about enjoying finding just the right moments to capture. It’s more about what I’ve learned by NOT learning.  It’s about receiving.


“It takes time and slowness to see the holy, shimmering presence beneath the surface of things.” -Christine Valters Painter, Eyes of the Heart

This is what I have learned through photography: to slow down, to be more aware of details, to spend time doing things I enjoy, to be less goal-oriented and more process-oriented, to enjoy the beauty of simple things, to not be in a hurry, to take more time to appreciate the surprises of a new country road or the change of seasons. I have learned to see with new eyes. 

contemplative photographyIt’s taken me back to my youth as well. Ever since I witnessed Poloraids mysteriously develop in front of my eyes or when I managed to squeak out 25 exposures from 24-exposure Kodak Instamatic film (at a John Denver Concert), I’ve enjoyed the thrill of capturing moments through photos.

I remember doing career research in 9th grade. The three careers I researched were: teacher, photographer and reporter. Interestingly, my first career out of college was not in any of these areas; it was in advertising sales. I thought there was greater income potential, or at least that was what the research said, and I listened to the advice of others. But these interests never faded.

I am grateful I’ve journeyed back to the passions of my youth through hobbies (writing this blog and photography) and a nearly 20 year teaching career. I believe those passions were planted in my heart from the beginning. And my heart really knew it.

“…Our first kind of vision is what we see through the lens. The second kind of vision involves all of the thoughts and judgements we make as we compose an image…The third kind of vision moves us beyond these, so that the camera draws us into an experience of presence with this moment now, and it becomes a prayer.”-Christine Valters Paintner, Eyes of the Heart

This picture-taking, photography hobby is not as much about the product, the photo I take, but the process. The sense of adventure and creativity bring a deep joy of celebrating and capturing a scene that will never quite be that same way again.  What started as photography for memory-documentation-purposes turned into something much more joyful and creative and, even, prayerful. Some call it “contemplative photography”. And one does not need a fancy camera to go there. My iPhone can do the trick.


“It cultivates what I call sacred seeing or seeing with the “eyes of the heart” (Ephesians 1:18)….This practice focuses us on receiving images, rather than taking or making images.-Christine Valters Painter, Eyes of the Heart

So I share some of my hobby, my prayer, from this past weekend: country roads between Lincoln and Schuyler, Nebraska, mainly in an area referred to as the “Bohemian Alps” and on retreat at St. Benedict Center. It’s a colorless season right now in Nebraska—no green or gold or red or violet, just various shades of brown, white, gray and black, and on a good day, the big, blue Nebraska sky.

A sampling of photos taken at St. Benedict Center during a contemplative prayer retreat last weekend:

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There is something so striking in a tree without leaves. Winter trees show what they are really made of. You see every branch and twig, twists and turns and gnarls, how it’s structured, how it carries its weight, hinting at the strength of its roots. Stark, clean, uncovered. The simplicity of a naked tree leaves me speechless. I lose track of time when a tree calls to be seen. (Also see The Same Two Trees)

Photos taken in Butler and Saunders County, the “Bohemian Alps” this February 2016:

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 “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see clearly; What is essential is invisible to the eye.” –Antoine de Saint-Exupery

A new way of seeing what might have never been noticed-this is the gift of contemplative photography. It is when silence and solitude and creativity and nature collide into a oneness that can only be received, not pursued. Take your camera and hit a country road one of these days. I promise you’ll see differently. See more blog posts on Country Roads and Contemplative Photography.

Let me seek, then, the gift of silence, and poverty, and solitude, where everything I touch is turned into prayer: where the sky is my prayer, the birds are my prayer, the wind in the trees is my prayer, for God is in all.

— Thomas Merton , “Thoughts In Solitude”

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