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. 

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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.

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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. 

 

 

Wherever God Dwells in My Heart

God can speak in so many ordinary ways, but, if one does not intentionally take notice, a lesson will surely be lost. For me, listening to my dreams and expressing myself creatively is when I am most aware of God’s presence.  

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Card Name: Birthing Something New

Recently, I had a dream that I was pregnant. I was not in labor but, clearly, I was expectantly waiting for the birth. When I woke, I knew this brief dream was one of both hope and uncertainty, and that it mirrored the ambiguous space I’ve been in for several months. I remember when I was in actual labor with my daughter, Jessica, thinking, “I quit. I’m done. I can’t do this anymore. I’m outta here!” It’s a silly thought, because, obviously, there is no other choice but to persist.

As any mother will tell you, labor is definitely worth it but, in the middle of it, that place of in-between, frustration and impatience can set in (not to mention, pain). As it is with birthing a baby, so it is with birthing something new in one’s life. One is more-than-ready to see the fruits of labor.

In dream language, being pregnant means more than giving birth to a baby; it’s about potential and expectation—giving birth to an idea, a new phase of life, or a new phase in a relationship. All of life is a birthing, dying and rebirthing process.

“…love in its fullest form is a series of deaths and rebirths. We let go of one phase, one aspect of love, and enter another… Pain is chased away and surfaces another time. To love means to embrace and at the same time to withstand many many endings, and many many beginnings—all in the same relationship.” –Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves

I woke from this dream knowing that something new shall come and that I must persist. Less an act of will and more an act of surrender, I trust that this birthing is a divine experience.

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Card Name: New Birth with an Empty Nest

Just a few weeks later, another dream gives me a hint of what is to come. I was frustrated that I hadn’t seen any progress on a house that was under construction. I wondered, how could the builder not show me this house that I was planning to buy? Finally, he gave me a tour. The rooms were larger, different than I had expected, surprisingly unique. There were some rooms that already had furniture in them, arranged in a way that I would never have considered. It was far more beautiful than I could have imagined.  But there were other rooms that were still under construction. Also, there were two staircases—one that led to my bedroom and another that went to a few guest rooms, those that family might stay in.  Although the rooms were near each other, they could not be reached from one to the other. They could only be reached through their separate staircases. In the large living room, there was a piano with rows of chairs gathered around it, as if for a performance. I was content that the house was coming along quite beautifully and far beyond my expectations.

This house is me. This dream spoke to me of comfort, fulfillment, wonder, patience, hope, and even, certainty. And although I am “under construction”, what is, and what is to come, is beautiful. Progress IS being made even if it might not look or feel like it. I am excited at the prospect that there are choices that I can make, of color and pattern, to complete the decor. What was revealed is certainty that God is working, and also a hope, a promise of something new to come.

I am surprised that I have my own staircase, that my room is separate from the others, but this gives me confidence that this journey is my own to grow in beauty of self and spirit. God is working on me and in me, giving me permission to limit distractions, to have my own haven of peace.  It really doesn’t matter what God has in store for me because God dwells within me. I am at home wherever God dwells in my heart.

My dreams will continue to give insight and God will continue to work on me in a more beautiful way than I could have imagined myself. I may not know what is to come, but trusting the birthing process is surrendering the outcome.

Consider: What does it mean to dwell by myself? Where do I dwell? Where am I “at home?”  For more on this topic listen to HR#35 The Life of St. Benedict – God’s Dwelling Within – The Holy Rule of St. Benedict w/ Fr. Mauritius Wilde O.S.B

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Card Name: Held in Love, God’s Dwelling Place

More SoulFully You blog posts on Dreams:
When the Dust Settles
Lessons I’ve Learned, Again: 2016 in Review
When You Feel Like You’re Sinking, Just Float
Just float…Gently down the stream, Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, Life is but a dream

Lessons I’ve Learned, Again: 2016 in Review

beginningsHappy New Year from SoulFully You! Thank you for subscribing to and sharing my posts during 2016.

The SoulFully You website was birthed as a way to connect with those who practice prayerful creativity and who attend my retreats and workshops. The blog came along later when writing as an expression of creativity felt comfortable. Journaling is a spiritual practice, sometimes an emotional purging, but always a way to see the hand of God at work in one’s life. For me, reflecting is just as prayerful as the writing itself. Reading what I have written during 2016, I see how God was preparing me for challenges, urging me to trust and to be patient. God works in every moment of our life—in times of joy and peace, turmoil and trial.  I am never more certain of that than when I re-read my journal or blog posts. I appreciate those in person, or through this blog, who joined me in the journey.

Lessons I Have Learned, Again

Most of 2016 was observed as a Jubilee Year of Mercy in the Catholic Church, a time to reflect on the many ways we are in need of mercy and the opportunity to always begin again.  Sometimes it takes living, learning a lesson, living it again, remembering the lesson learned, (and in my case) writing about it, screwing it up a few more times, before, finally, letting the lesson settle into the soul as a balm for what ails.

captureThere were plenty of opportunities to practice mercy, on myself and others, this year. In Parker Palmer for President: The only political post I will ever make, I was full of intention to be “more Benedictine” during the tension of a tumultuous election year—to listen more, to honor diversity and to be more hospitable to those who don’t share similar political views. I admit that it was easier to write before we knew who the Presidential nominees would be, before offensive Facebook posts and family disagreements, before the dream of our first woman President died, than it was to live out. The best outcome from this post—a direct response from the dear Parker Palmer, who I pledge to vote for should he ever decide to run.

Lesson learned: Having intention is easier than action; be more merciful to oneself; try again. 

In When the Dust Settles, I had a dream that gave me the insight to move through some difficult situations slowly, to be cautious, and to patiently wait for the dust to settle, to see what otherwise might be overlooked. God has many backup plans for us; we don’t need to have a perfect vision of what is to come. 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 imagined.

Lesson learned: Be patient; one can see more clearly when the dust has settled. 

I also learned what I previously thought I knew, that I don’t know nothin’. I learned from my father-in-law, who also knew nothin’, that one should leave “room for not knowing, for mystery. He knew he wasn’t in charge of all things true… and he admitted it many, many times.” So many times I’ve thought I had things figured out, knew what would happen, had expected an outcome, just to come back to this lesson—I don’t know nothin’. Anything can happen and that’s going to be okay too. Things change, God is constant.

Lesson learned: I don’t know nothin’. 

I also remembered that I am a child of God, something I thought I already knew, but apparently had forgotten also. In Made for Goodness: A Child of God, I was reminded of this message: “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.”

Lesson learned: God is constant. HE is before all things. By HIM all things consist. (Col 1:17) 

So Much Joy Too

Despite the challenging year, there was so much joy too. Most significantly, our daughter, Jessica, navigated her final semester of college, landed an amazing job in Washington DC and moved to Capitol Hill two weeks after receiving her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Business Administration. “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.” See A Mother’s Blessing and Just Listen: Advice for a Quarter-Life Crisis.

Much joy came from simple, yet poignant moments: lunch with a friend, a walk around Holmes Lake, a thoughtful text message or a surprise gift or card of encouragement, good conversation, times of silence, reading, creating, leading or attending a retreat at St. Benedict Center, having a photo in the Hildegard Center for the Arts “Bridges” Nebraska Sesquicentennial Photo Exhibit, Oblate discussions and lectio divina, the friendship and shared reading with my Circle and book group, the satisfaction of finishing my first theology class at Creighton University, the ordinary moments of marriage and mothering, a Carrie Newcomer concert on a coincidental weekend trip to DC, moments of clarity and connection with the Divine. Joy can always be found.

In 2017, I hope to write more about Benedictine spirituality, sharing posts and other resources at a new website and blog, BeingBenedictine.combeing-benedictine

Thanks to you, SoulFully You was viewed 4700 times by over 2400 readers in more than 40 countries, primarily in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia and Germany.  SoulFully You is about listening, praying and living a creative, purposeful, passionate life. It’s about becoming SoulFully You.  

May you have joy, peace, love, and creativity in 2017!  May it settle in your heart that you can “do this hard thing” knowing God is present in all of your moments. Blessings, Jodi

You can do this hard thing
You can do this hard thing
It’s not easy I know
But I believe that it’s so
You can do this hard thing

 

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.   

 

Just float…Gently down the stream, Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, Life is but a dream

When you feel like you’re sinking, just float.

Lie back and rest.

You will be held.

float struggleMade in the image of God, we are created to create. We are meant to DO something with what we are given—our ideas, our talents and our dreams. God planted them within us for a reason. They are conceived without our knowing, but we sense it. Something is happening within us and we must take notice. Continue reading “Just float…Gently down the stream, Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, Life is but a dream”

Cece: * A * * Snow * * Day * * Reflection * *

I think of Cece, our neighbor, often, but especially when we have “snow days”.  As a teacher, I benefit from our school district’s closure for inclement weather….today—

A WIND CHILL ADVISORY IS IN EFFECT UNTIL 12 PM TODAY AS -20° TO -25° WIND CHILL COULD CAUSE FROST BITE WITHIN MINUTES AND HYPOTHERMIA. STAY INDOORS AND IN HEATED AREAS AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.”snow day1

This is Nebraska—it can get very cold and snowy. We have five extra days built into our school calendar for such weather. We are usually notified the night before or early morning if school is cancelled, but one morning I drove to school and didn’t realize it had been cancelled. From then on Cece Continue reading “Cece: * A * * Snow * * Day * * Reflection * *”

When you feel like you’re sinking, just float.

soul aloftWhen you feel like you’re sinking, just float.
Lie back and rest.
You will be held.

I love dreams. I love that I remember them. I’ve even asked for answers to problems to come to me in my dreams. And they have come. I also have surprise dreams that intrigue me. I love to think about the dream symbols, what they might Continue reading “When you feel like you’re sinking, just float.”

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