Marriage Moments: 32 years and counting!

Jodi Blazek ❤ Joseph Gehr, August 17, 1985scan0009

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 recreated; 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 will not survive without adapting to, enduring and celebrating the change of seasons. A marriage embraces all seasons.

I believe more each day that it is only in the stability of marriage, enduring the weather of every season, that one can reap the true benefits of a life lived together. Advice to young couples: Stick with it. Don’t give up.  I promise, with effort, love, respect, and forgiveness, your marriage will endure and you will be so happy it did!

A marriage is made of moments.

scan0008Marriage includes the necessary and mundane—doing laundry, taking out the trash, paying bills, fixing, washing, mowing, checking things off the list of things to do, arguing about checking things off, thanking each other for checking things off.

After 32 years of marriage, Joe and I have so many “remember when” moments, the makings of great storytelling or one-liners that no one else understands but us. Funny, sad, silly, stupid, poignant, heartwarming, memorable moments. Moments we’d like to forget and moments we have to forgive. But, mostly, moments that have helped us become who we are.

A marriage is made of moments. Some of our earlier moments:

  • Joe sending little gifts to me for several days before our wedding that said: “7 days til a lifetime” (6, 5, 4 and so on). Each day a new gift arrived.
  • Working four jobs between us so I could finish college, sometimes with only enough time to exchange notes or take a break together at one of our shared part-time jobs at Montgomery Ward.
  • Buying our first home and meeting our neighbors, Cece and Bob. Cece, who became a widow just six months later, became part of our family and a grandma to our daughter.
  • Having our first baby and Joe announcing “You got your girl!”, when she was born…my secret hope.
  • Experiencing the loss of two babies and the grief of infertility while creating a family of three with more love than we could imagine.
  • Welcoming dogs (Ralph, Rosie, and Bailey) and cats (Peaches and Boots) into our little family…and missing their love and companionship when they passed on.
  • Being parents to Jessica, from diapers and bottles, soccer games and DECA competitions to college internships and sorority activities.
    wedding

A marriage is made of moments. Our life now:

  • Being empty nest parents to Jessica, staying in touch with our daily Fam-bam texts.  Everything from biking routes that Jessica and a friend took to pizza Joe and I made in a cast-iron skillet to a virtual shoulder to cry on during some rough patches. We are a family connected wherever we are. FullSizeRender (49)
  • Visiting Jessica at her home in Washington DC, letting her host us and be our tour guide. (Of course, we still pick up the check at all the restaurants she has been dying to visit.)20292910_10213492358253709_6210654865780852683_n
  • Enjoying what still feels like our new home, getting into jammies the minute we get home from work, making dinner, yelling at the news (rather than at each other) and thanking God that we have grown together, sharing the same world view in very troubled times.
  • Providing comfort, support and unconditional love for each other (and Jessica) during some very challenging and painful experiences this past year.

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    With the Schoenings, friends we met Jessica’s kindergarten year. Just like family!
  • Becoming more adventurous as empty nest parents: enjoying fun times with friends, day trips to nearby wineries, and taking a special trip to the Bridges of Madison County just the two of us.

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Thirty-two years of marriage is a threading of memories, a string of moments that hold the seasons of life.  After 32 years, marriage is about acceptance. We rest into acceptance of who the other is, rather than attempting to create the other into who we would like them to be. We enjoy each other with a lightheartedness that wasn’t possible in the newlywed years. Time is funny: it goes too fast, but it also unfolds so slowly that we don’t always see the transformation of the innocent into the mature, the immature into the confident. After 32 years, I know that this man is someone I can count on no matter what the season. I am so grateful for our marriage and our beautiful grown-up girl!

Happy 32nd Anniversary to us!

A Marriage Made of Moments is a blog post I wrote for our 30th anniversary in 2015. For our 31-derful anniversary, I shared a revised post with updated photos, new “moments” and fresh reflections. Check them out too. ❤

Many Ways To Pray: Walking A Labyrinth

“There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” –Rumi

There are many ways to pray—in song, spoken or written words, silence, creativity, nature and movement, just to mention a few. Paul recommends to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), which is only possible if we are able to connect with our Creator in a variety of ways. We are meant to engage our senses, our whole bodies, in prayer.

I’ve come to appreciate this about the Catholic Mass, even if visitors might think there is a lot of up and down. We genuflect, sit, stand, kneel and bow. These gestures, postures or movement help to bring our whole being into prayerful expression—raising our hands when saying the “Our Father”, making the sign of the cross or receiving the Eucharist allows us to use our bodies in prayer.

lab signIn addition, walking the stations of the cross or a labyrinth, taking a nature hike, or practicing yoga or tai chi are prayerful forms of movement that engage our bodies while quieting our mind. 

This summer I had the opportunity to pray in many ways while attending an eight-day Ignatian retreat at the Creighton University Retreat Center. Each day, for about an hour, I met with a spiritual director to receive guidance and to share my faith journey; the remainder of the day was spent reflecting on these discussions and praying. One of the ways that I prayed was by walking a labyrinth.

“A labyrinth is not a maze. A maze is a symbol of life without meaning, it is an agent of confusion, deception with dead ends that lead you nowhere. But a labyrinth is a symbol of a life of deeper meaning, an on-going sacred journey leading us inward, outward and to greater wholeness.”Carrie Newcomer

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There is a clear design to a labyrinth with only one path to reach the center, albeit not direct, and the same path to walk  from the center outwards. Bringing one’s prayer to the labyrinth helps engage the mind, body and spirit.

“The labyrinth is an archetype, a divine imprint, found in all religious traditions in various forms around the world…Walking the labyrinth is a spiritual discipline that invites us to trust the path, to surrender to the many turns our lives take, and to walk through the confusion, the fear, the anger, and grief that we cannot avoid experiencing as we live our earthly lives.”  Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress

Often before starting a labyrinth walk, I offer an intention, ask a question, or prayerfully surrender a situation to God. Sometimes I carry a SoulCollage® card with me as I journey towards the center. Because there is only one path inward, the mind can let go of how one while arrive at the center. It is a certainty that I will get there eventually. I practice trusting that wherever God takes me, I will be led both inward to the center and back out. I can settle into a knowing that God is with me, that God accompanies.

This walk, or journey inward, is a metaphor for life—really all situations, relationships and decisions are a journey. So often we don’t know where we are headed, even with the best of plans or intentions. With a labyrinth walk, one has the experience of letting go of their own plan—surrendering and trusting that the center will be reached.  It is nearly impossible to rush through a labyrinth. Just imagine what that might look like at the turning points. It is actually dizzying to make the turns, circling around from one quadrant to another, if moving too fast. The best option for the labyrinth (and perhaps for all of life) is to move in a rhythmic, slow, meditative walk.

Despite the appearance of a dead end, or another switchback, the journey continues inward and will ultimately arrive at the center. The route isn’t always clear. I often wonder if I somehow lost my place. Am I just walking in circles? There may be a bit of anxiety, but trusting that the path is the right one brings freedom. If this can be transferred to our life’s journey, imagine what that freedom might be like! Wherever God takes me, whether I am led inward or back out, when I feel I’ve lost my way or the walk feels longer than it should, I am reminded that God holds the divine design to our personal journey.

labyrinth prayer

When I arrive at the center of the labyrinth, I surrender my intention, rest and pray. Recently I learned the labyrinth in the Chartres Cathedral is situated where the womb of Mary would be if the cathedral itself symbolized the head, arms and body of Mary (see Bishop Robert Barron’s description of the Chartres Cathedral and the image of Mary). It is a beautiful image to bring one’s prayer and concerns to the womb of Mary, surrendering into Jesus who surrendered for us. God makes our offering into something new; through our surrender, something in us can be birthed or transformed. The labyrinth, of course, is a symbol of this—we can surrender anytime. We are called to, as Jesus said, “Follow me”.

 

Wisdom Ways Labyrinth Building
Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth completed in 1220, France

 

Bishop Robert Barron describes the stained-glass window, perfectly shaped to reflect on the labyrinth, as a symbol of heavenly light shining on the womb of Mary, receiving the light of Christ as the bearer of the divine word. Spending time in the center of the labyrinth, we can make personal Mary’s acceptance, “Be it done unto me (Luke 1:38).” We surrender as Mary did when she received the news from the angel Gabriel in the Annunciation.

“Growth is a spiral process, doubling back on itself, reassessing and regrouping.”-Julia Cameron 

The journey outward is a continued expression of the prayerful surrender. It occurred to me while walking outward that I was moving more quickly. I was in a bit of a hurry even. Almost as if to say “I surrender, but please, answer my prayer quickly” or “There, I did it! I surrender. Done!”  I am aware that I prefer difficult situations to be “fixed” now. I want a resolution; I don’t want to wait for an answer or solution. I don’t want the pain of the journey. I want to get straight to the center and back out again. Of course, the hurrying really doesn’t work. Staying attentive and slowly walking the walk is the only way to stay in God’s presence, to truly surrender. 

Walking the labyrinth brings new insights each time—about the process itself, as a metaphor for life’s journey, and about the situation in need of prayer. Praying while walking a labyrinth can be combined with many other forms of prayer as well.

 

labyrinth and card
A SoulCollage® card I made to represent a recent dream.

 

 I love labyrinths and am so excited about one being built at St. Benedict Center! “Its model is the famous labyrinth in the Cathedral of Chartres, France.  When the Holy Land was closed to pilgrims in the Middle Ages, labyrinths abounded in the churches of Europe.  They were used to symbolically represent the pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  Our life is a pilgrimage, a journey to our eternal home with God in heaven.” –Father Thomas Leitner The labyrinth will be completed by spring 2018.

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Consider attending a retreat I am leading hosted by St. Benedict Center called Living in the Fullness of God, October 27-28, 2018. Through prayer, we grow in the fullness of relationship with God. “The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything” (Julian of Norwich). What does it mean to live life to its fullest? Is it possible to always live with joy? Explore the paradox of embracing joy and sadness, light and darkness, birthing and dying, God in all and God within as we explore our greatest joy—that we are created in the image of God and we are created to create! Embrace the fullness of God’s gift of creative prayer including lectio divina, SoulCollage®, guided meditation and a labyrinth walk.

labyrinth June 2017

 

 

Music as Prayer ♫ This Journey Is My Own

“Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul.” -Plato

Singing is soulful. It is prayerful and it is powerful. I love to sing (in the privacy of my own car). I love to listen to others sing, from the liturgical chant of Benedictine monks to contemporary Christian artists. Whether it’s the melody or insightful lyrics that I find a connection with, music can create a mood, help recognize or express a feeling, or bring me to a place of prayerful listening.

When monks are singing they believe they are singing with the angels, and we are just to join in. The beauty of singing familiar songs and hymns is allowing our mind and heart to beat as one. Songs that capture what we could have not so artfully written, become our prayer. To sing, or sing with another, is to elevate the soul, to connect with the Divine.

journey is my own

With music as inspiration, I created this SoulCollage® card to honor my own journey, some new paths I am taking. The words came later:

I am one who is on a journey. I walk this path alone, yet accompanied.  At times I walk a road that is flat, even, predictable; at other times with bumps and bends that I don’t expect. Sometimes it’s all uphill.  Smooth or stony, I walk with the prayer of birthing something new—a new awareness, aim or attitude,  the spark of a fresh idea, or the comfort of a new connection. There are times when the landscape is of no significance. I notice it and I keep walking, nose to the ground. More often, I am one who wanders the road, captivated by clouds and big sky, awake to the countless shades of ordinary green, gold and brown. I notice the details. That is my prayer. I want to see what’s new. I am surrounded by the music of my soul, a prayer, and voice that guides me. I am embraced by the sounds of heaven; I listen to the symphony created  just for me.  And I follow.  This journey is my own.

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“This Journey Is My Own”, a beautiful song by Sara Groves, captures the essence of my spiritual journey, one of my favorites: 

When I stand before the Lord, I’ll be standing alone
This journey is my own
Still I want man’s advice, and I need man’s approval
This journey is my own

Why would I want to live for man, and pay the highest price
What does it mean to gain a whole world, only to lose my life

So much of what I do is to make a good impression
This journey is my own
And so much of what I say is to make myself look better
But this journey is my own

And why would I want to live for man, and pay the highest price
And what does it mean to gain a whole world, only to lose my life

And I have never felt relief like I feel it right now
This journey is my own
Cuz trying to please the world, it was breaking me down
It was breaking me down

And now I live and I breathe for an audience of one
Now I live and I breathe for an audience of one
Now I live and I breathe for an audience of one
Cuz I know this journey is my own

And why would I want to live for man, and pay the highest price
And what does it mean to gain a whole world, only to lose my life
And you can live for someone else, and it will only bring you pain
I can’t even judge myself, only the Lord can say, ‘Well done.’

Oh, this journey is my own

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This Journey is My Own, Sara Groves

CaptureSinging in God’s Presence #3: In place of the disability to express ourselves, to sing, The Holy Rule of St. Benedict: A Spiritual Path for Today’s World with Fr. Mauritius Wilde O.S.B., PhD.

“The aim and final reason of all music should be nothing else but the glory of God and the refreshment of the spirit.”-Johann Sebastian Bach

 

 

 

Follow the Star: For the Directionally Challenged

“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?  For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.” ~Matthew 2:2We are kings and queens

For the past four months we have lived off the radar, so to speak.

We live in the city, but we can see the city limits boundary from our backyard. There are empty lots behind us, next to us and across the street. Our address is finally recognized by the U.S. Postal Service, but is not listed on Google Maps or detectable by other forms of GPS.

For the first four weeks at our new address, the local cable company claimed there were no lines laid in our neighborhood to connect us to internet and television services (much to the disappointment of my sports-loving husband.) When people have come to visit us, we need to provide them directions, not just our street advice. No Google maps, no Siri will find us; just good, old-fashioned directions. “Head south on ___street.  Go three more blocks until you reach ___street. Turn right. Go to ____ street, and turn left.”

This hasn’t been an easy task for visitors to our new house. We’ve received phone calls from lost friends and have had some late arrivals. We really have no idea how long we will be technologically unlocate-able, but we kind of enjoy being out in the boonies. (Picture of old barn less than 1/4 mile away from our house)

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So, who has had the most difficulty finding us, you ask?  The answer: the directionally challenged and/or people 30 years old and younger, the Millenial generation.

So many people have become accustomed to using GPS to navigate, not just on trips to unfamiliar destinations, but the cities where they reside as well. I love young people (I teach them; I have one…a daughter), but they just don’t know their directions very well, having relied heavily on technology to navigate from one place to the next.

GPS has become a crutch….perhaps a tool that is used instead of problem-solving for oneself or following one’s natural sense of direction. Getting turned around in a neighborhood can be a brain-teaser without knowing which way is north, south, east or west; what direction you came from; and what direction you need to be going. Relying on GPS precludes the possibility of finding a short cut or a more scenic drive. Sometimes we just need to make decisions about what the best route is on our own, without advice from GPS.

What if you were told to just follow a star to get where you were going?

epiphany1“Follow the star” was the only direction given to the Magi seeking the Christ-child over 2000 years ago. They didn’t have a road map and they certainly didn’t have GPS. But sometimes that’s all you need—just a general idea of where you are headed, especially when you are aware of being guided by something Greater. They watched and listened and followed the Light… and they found Jesus. When they were headed back home, the Magi were instructed to return by another route. They learned new information that could help them on their return journey.

“They listened to a voice deep within, which led them to follow that light. The star guided them, until they found the King of the Jews in a humble dwelling in Bethlehem.”~Pope Francis, January 6, 2016

Perhaps this is the only road map or GPS we need—follow the Light, listen, watch, rely on the Divine to give you cues, clues and the guidance to end up right where you belong. And every now and then, take a different route.

Things to ponder: What or who do you listen to for direction in life? What or who is the “star” you are seeking?  Are you following the Light?

Happy Epiphany and continued Christmas Blessings!

“…go to Bethlehem, to find the Child and his Mother. Let us follow the light which God offers us!”~Pope Francis, January 6, 2016

The Creators Hand

Cards made during Christmas and Epiphany seasons, 2015

SoulFully You: 2015 in Review

Happy New Year from SoulFully You!butterfly no logo Thank you for subscribing to and sharing my posts during 2015. Your comments and feedback have been encouraging.

Thanks to you, SoulFully You was viewed 6200 times by over 2500 readers in 39 countries during 2015. Readers have found SoulFully You through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, SoulCollage, Becoming Minimalist, Jumping Tandem, Abbey of the Arts, St. Benedict Center and Google. It’s been a serendipitous blessing to connect with people around the world and to stumble upon new readers in my hometown, Lincoln, Nebraska.

SoulFully You, the name of this blog /hobby/ business/vocation /passion /endeavor is about my own pursuit of a creative, spiritual  and authentic life and my desire to accompany others on that journey. It’s about listening and praying and living a creative, purposeful, passionate life.

It’s about becoming SoulFully You. So thank you for accompanying me.DSC_0323a

There is no formula for what and when I share. There are no strategically-planned weekly posts (who would want notifications or email from me every week?). It may seem a little haphazard to the reader (and even within the writer, ha!), but it’s important for me to wait for inspiration and to listen for guidance about what to write; to be soulful about what I share.  I know when it feels right; and I know when it feels forced or unnatural. I’m not going to “leap ahead of grace” (quoting Sr. Helen Prejean) when it comes to SoulFully You.

SoulFully You, the blog, was birthed to connect with others who find DSC_0730SoulCollage® a creative and prayerful form of self-expression and to share information about retreats and workshops. 

But it has transformed into something more for me: a way to reflect, grow spirituality and express myself creatively. Both words (writing/reading) and images (SoulCollage®) resonate with me; I surrender to the synergy that is greater than either practice alone; I listen and learn and follow my intuition.   I write about what I am passionate about, often prompted through SoulCollage®I am one who” statements; send it out into the universe; and hope that it resonates with a few people.  I have faith that what I create will be a spark of light for the right people, at the right time.

WordPress, the blog platform used for SoulFully You, prepares an annual report, basically a report card, for every blog they host. The cool thing is that it’s just about my blog…no comparisons, no goal setting, no pressure to increase blog traffic…just a good old-fashioned report. It honors what IS and I appreciate that. 

According to WordPress, the top 5 posts on SoulFully You were:

1. Giving up to Gain: Selling, Decluttering and the 68506

2. It’s About Time We Start Sharing the Same Breath

3. Selling Our House: Surrender to Surprise

4. Decluttering: Taking Off the Top Layer

5.  A Picture Can Reveal the Soul: Using Images in the Classroom

Decluttering and selling our house was a defining element of 2015. Writing about it was tonic, and accountability, for the soul…and it seemed to have resonated with others–Google search brings a new reader almost daily for those posts. I haven’t written about our move (and the downstairs storage room that affirms the decluttering process as yet unfinished), but I hope to bring this theme back to life in 2016…life just got complicated during the process.

In the midst of moving to a temporary dwelling while our new house was finished, my mother-in-law (pictured) became ill, was hospitalized for several weeks and then suddenly passed away.

Our hearts are broken. Perhaps the greatest stress and loss in our lives, combined with sending our senior-in-college daughter to Washington DC for an internship, IMG_8622starting a new school year myself and then finally moving for the last time, has thrown us into survival mode for the second half of 2015. Lots of tasks are still on the list of things-to-do.

Creating and writing about other topics has been helpful and healing, but likely a bit of avoidance as well. I hope to write about my mother-in-law when the time feels right. In the meantime writing and reflecting about spirituality and Soul Collage®, creativity and country drives, friends and family has been a balm for my soul.

Some of my favorite 2015 posts

love and marriageSome of my favorite posts are about my husband and daughter. Joe and I celebrated 30  years of marriage this year and Jessica is just one semester away from being a college graduate.  See A Marriage Made of Moments and Jessica Becoming.

Driving country roads is contemplative prayer for me. I get lost in the beauty and I know I am in the presence of God. See Country Road Contemplative (also shared on Abbey of the Arts Monk in the World guest blog), The Same Two Trees, The Grandeur of God, Signs on Country Roads.

Using SoulCollage® to honor and remember friends and family is not just an option for me….I have to, I am compelled. This year I created cards and wrote about Cece, a grandma collageneighbor who was like a grandma to us (See Cece: A Snow Day Reflection); my own grandma Helen Blazek (pictured) and what I learned about faith from her (See Images of Faith); and about my friend Judy, part of our Circle (See Circle of Friends), who also passed away in 2015.

Reading “Every Little Thing: Making a World of Difference Right Where You Are” by Deidra Riggs was a surreal experience. Being neighbors by chance, and having as much in common as different, brought the exciting opportunity to be on the launch team for her first (and likely not last) book. (See It’s About Time We Start Sharing the Same Breath and Every Little Thing).

And of course, writing and reflecting on the power of images and creativity is my afavorite topic to write about–in my job as a teacher, in my spiritual life, leading retreats (especially Full Moon retreats!) and in reflecting on nature and the environment. (See We are Moons, Not Suns; Living in the Fullness of God; Praying with Scissors; Why I Teach; Earth Gratitude; We are Made in the Image of God;  A Picture Can Reveal The Soul)

Some of the topics I hope to write about in 2016 are Benedictine spirituality (including obedience, stability and conversion of life….and what all of that really means for a “monk in the world“), Lectio and Visio Divina prayer practice, creating and reflecting on Community Suit (friends and family) SoulCollage cards®, being a Catholic-Come-Home, the on-going decluttering process and using SoulCollage® to celebrate Earth Day! Whatever it is, I shall wait for the Divine nudge and then hit PUBLISH. We’ll see how it goes.

Thank you for following SoulFully You! May 2016 bring you joy, reflection, peace, creativity and love!  Blessings, Jodi

For the official WordPress report card, see link below.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,200 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

SoulFully You 2015 in Blogging Annual Report

 

A Country Road Contemplative

I’m thrilled to have written a Monk in the World Guest Post at Christine Valters Paintner’s Abbey of the Arts website/blog. She is one of my favorite authors (The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom) and an inspiration for me to continue to learn more about creativity and prayer. My post, A Country Road Contemplative, is about the sacred pilgrimage of driving country roads.

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My country drives are a sacred experiencea contemplative, scenic journey through four counties of Nebraska. 

Driving country roads has become a pilgrimage of its own as I travel to St. Benedict Center, a Benedictine retreat center and monastery seventy miles northwest of my home. Once or twice a month, I receive spiritual direction, participate in or lead retreats, attend Oblate meetings or pray with the monks. It’s where I go to honor my “inner monk”, find peace and quiet, learn to live more holy and grow in love. It has become my spiritual home and a home-away-from-home.


Optimized-DSC_0471aInitially, the drive was a means to an end, an hour and a half that I endured to get to my spiritual oasis. 
For most of thirteen years, I’ve taken the most direct route via paved highway. Occasionally, I took a different route or explored shortcuts, attempting to shave minutes off the drive.

The most efficient shortcut requires traveling on ten miles of gravel roads through small towns with few houses, and long since closed grocery stores and taverns. Every mile or two, there is a farmhouse nestled in rolling hills (or on flat-as-pancakes plains; we have both in Nebraska), acres of crops, cattle and pig farms, old trucks and tractors, and farm dogs that run after my car, barking.

I begin to notice details—the color of the sky, shapes of clouds, shadows on a hill. I wonder about the farmhouse that still has curtains on the windows, yet abandoned. I stop on bridges and watch water rush below. I see turkey and deer, donkeys and horses, weeds and wildflowers, fields of sunflowers and bales of hay. But, rarely, do I see other people.

It’s common in Nebraska to travel country roads and not encounter another car or person for miles. I feel as if I’m the only person in the world, an unmatched solitude and peace. I am taken with the beauty of the changing seasons—the greens of spring and summer, the gold and reds of autumn, the browns and grey of winter. I notice when the corn is higher, the sky more blue. The landscape is always being re-created, always in a state of becoming.

It happened slowly, but I realized that the drive is just as sacred of an experience as getting to my destination.  I prefer to drive alone, sometimes spending two or more hours turning west, then north, then west again; taking roads that look interesting and head in the general direction of St. Benedict Center. It has become part of the weekend getaway instead of the means to an end. The drives that I had tried to trim minutes off of, actually have become longer. As I plan more time for the drive, my weekend pilgrimages start the minute I get in the car.

A pilgrimage is a journey. A pilgrimage does not require a far-off destination or even a sacred shrine as the endpoint. A great Desert father, Abba Moses, advised his monks, “Go sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.” My car has become my “cell”, where I turn inward, reflect, behold, contemplate and enjoy the country roads.

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”― Heraclitus

Optimized-DSC_0500a (1)I wanted to capture the beauty of the land that is so seldom seen—not just in numbers of people (although that can be an issue in Nebraska), but I mean really seen—appreciated, cherished, shared.  Now I take a camera with me every time I travel country roadsI pull my car to the side of the road and photograph animals, sheds, flowers, old buildings, roads, fields, clouds, gravestones on a hill. I take pictures of cows that make eye contact with me (and they always do). I photograph barns that are bright red, barns with peeling paint, barns that have collapsed.

With each photo I take I know I am experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime-moment. I have taken thousands of photos of the countryside, but no two will ever be the same.  Never again will the clouds look just that way or will the grass be just that shade of green. Never will I step into the same “river” again, each moment unique and made for me to celebrate. When that moment is gone, it is gone forever.

I am alone on my pilgrimage, yet accompanied. This is where I know I meet God. This is where ideas overflow; where there are bursts of creativity and a wealth of insights; where problems get solved, prayer happens and time stands still, in my “cell”.

My “cell” has taught me that photography is contemplative prayer. It is a new way of seeing. I honor the present moment like no other time or place. There are so many undiscovered parts of our world—places where no one is—in the depths of the ocean, the expanse of a cornfield, down a Nebraska country road. God is present in all of those places and in our solitude we can be there too.

I have learned so much about God and life on country roads. The most efficient route might not be the most fruitful. I can head in a general direction and God can fill in the details. I can be flexible. Listening to God and following my intuition works. Perhaps I don’t need to have everything planned out perfectly. I can look for signs along the way (some roads are more winding or steep; usually there is a warning, just like in life). I can surrender to surprise. The present moment is all we have and we better appreciate it. Joy is meant to be shared, eventually, but solitude is essential. Spirit is the best roadmap. I am not the Absolute, so I cannot know absolutely where I should end up. I’ve learned to listen, to pray, to rejoice. I experience the sacred on country roads.

 

Every Little Thing!

Little things matter. A bunch of little things can make a difference, especially if it’s all the candy we eat in the weeks leading up to and following Halloween, which bumps into the weeks leading up to and following Thanksgiving…and then there’s all the Christmas parties… you get the idea. All the fun-sized, little snacks and treats can just plain add up on the scale.  Little things matter.

But little things can add up unexpectedly in big and good ways, too. The little things we do to take care of our physical, emotional and spiritual health can make a difference. The peaceful inhale and exhale of a contemplative prayer or meditation practice can sustain us when times are stressful. The little things we do for others can give comfort or show appreciation.

There are lots of little ways to make a big difference in the lives of people that we work, play and live with.

My former neighbor and friend, Deidra Riggs, wrote a book called Every Little Thing: Making a World of Difference Right Where You Are. Deidra found herself living in Nebraska, having moved here for her husband’s job, but not liking it one bit. Right where she was, was not where she wanted to be.

I started planning my escape. I wanted out. Not through. As far as I could tell, Nebraska was the very worst place to live in all the world”, she writes. Continue reading “Every Little Thing!”

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.”

Signs on country roads…and in life.

DSC_0076abI found some new country roads this weekend with lots of hills and curves and dead-ends and surprises.

If people think Nebraska is flat, then they’ve never gotten off Interstate-80. I drove for miles seeing neither car nor person. I discovered roads that are closed (likely indefinitely); roads that are minimally maintained; roads with bends, turns and curves, for no other apparent reason than a row of trees in the way; roads thatDSC_0079a embraced hills that rose out of nowhere; and roads with sharp rights (and no other options). Continue reading “Signs on country roads…and in life.”

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