Tag Archives: future

Unfinished

After my dad retired, my parents spent winters in Florida. Without her home and family to occupy her time, my mother took up a variety of hobbies, including painting. Lessons were offered at the community center in their RV park, and my mother became a prolific painter.

After she stopped going to Florida, my mom set up her easel in an upstairs bedroom at home and painted through her Michigan winters.

When we were clearing out her house last month, we found a painting she had not finished.  

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I took it home.

Something in this painting speaks to me—perhaps just because it is unfinished. It reminds me that we all leave things unfinished.

And I am not talking just about death.

When I left my job in July, I left plenty of things unfinished, projects for someone else to complete—or not. Once we are gone, someone else will pick up our works-in-progress and determine their fate.

I think that every time we make a change something goes undone.

With my work, I had to walk away without knowing the outcome of unfinished projects. I also walked away from work relationships—some old and some just beginning—leaving them without knowing where they might have gone, how they might have developed.

Every letting go is practice for the final letting go.

While looking for something in a closet a few months ago, I came across a white box I did not recognize. Inside was a knitting project I had started maybe fifteen years ago and had set aside when I switched jobs. The new job zapped all my energy, and I stopped knitting for a few years. Once I started knitting again, I hadn’t remembered this sweater, and it has sat unfinished all these years.

I was delighted to find it, and it brought back memories of a trip to Seattle and my visit to a well-known yarn shop where I bought this yarn.

Like my mother’s unfinished painting, this sweater reminds me of my own unfinishedness, of being a work-in-progress.

I am comfortable with being in process, comfortable living in the in-between spaces. Someone recently suggested I am standing on a precipice, and I agreed. My mother has died, and I have left my work—two cornerstones of my life, gone. What comes next is not entirely clear, and I want to stay open to the possibilities.

For now, though, I am trying to stay in that in-between space, where grief intersects with hope.

Nesting

I hadn’t noticed the robin

gathering leaves, twigs and bits of string,

building her nest in the eave of my garage.

Had she built it all in one day, I wondered,

the way it seemed to magically appear.

What I had noticed, though, for several days in a row,

was a robin sitting on the top of the fence,

and that drew my eye

to the place where she

(or was it other robins?)

had nested in years past,

that garage eave

just above the hydrangea plant that served as

a safety net to catch her babies

should their first attempts at flight not succeed,

a buffer between her home and the neighborhood cats

who would sense the presence of fledglings

learning to spread their wings.

I, too, am nesting,

gathering bits of this and that,

shaping them into something

that I hope will take flight one day.

The path

Pine needles carpet the trail through the woods.

No question

which way to go,

simply follow the path.

The world is quiet here, and

the silence absorbs the sounds of my footsteps,

as if I were a ballerina, light as a feather,

my toes barely touching the ground.

My mind is free to wander here,

nothing to distract,

except the rustling of leaves

and the occasional birds

calling out to one another.

The trail circles around and soon

I am back where I started.

Am I any wiser for having walked these few miles?

Is the path to my future any clearer?

Looking ahead

We celebrated my mother’s 94th birthday last week. At a niece’s wedding last fall, people kept telling me that my mother is “amazing” and “awesome.” I got tired of hearing it, and I also smiled at the truth of it. My mother is amazing and awesome.

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At 94, she still does her own cooking, cleaning and laundry; and she is still trying out new recipes! As my mother has aged, she has, in some ways, become more open to change. Part of that, she would say, is that we, her children, have forced her to accept change because we don’t do things the way she once did them. But, after a little resistance, she goes along.

My grandmother lived 96 years, and most of my mom’s siblings lived well into their 80s. One uncle died just days short of his 98th birthday. We have longevity.

The thing about my mother and her family’s longevity is that it is a constant reminder to live as though I, too, have longevity. It is an invitation to see a vast future waiting for me to explore.

And, because I have had so many friends die young, I also know an early death is possible and that each day is precious.

Balancing those two realities reminds me of a large rock I once saw. One side of the rock had the quote, “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die” etched into it, and the opposite side had a quote about planning for tomorrow. I was more of a “live for today” kind of person, so I don’t even remember what the other side said!

Having lived longer than a number of my friends (some did not even reach thirty) and considering my mother’s advanced age, I think more about the future now and ponder how I am being invited to live into that future. Intentionality is the word that comes to mind when I think of what is ahead—living intentionally.

For much of my early life, I moved around—a lot. I think in all that moving around, I was trying to run away from my past, searching for something external to bring me peace—only to find that wherever I went, I took my history with me. Eventually, I realized that everything I needed was inside me. I feel settled now and plan to stay put. I am unpacking and looking to a future built upon what I have learned.

Are you more of a “live for today” kind of person? Or are you someone who plans more for the future? Are you able to find a balance between the two?

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The invitation

From the edge of a wetlands,

I watched an oriole fly across the tops of dried reeds and then

come to rest on an open pod that had let it seeds be carried away by the wind.                                                                                         

The oriole surveys his world from above.

At my feet, new growth breaks through the marsh and

will soon overtake the dead stalks.

Has the oriole noticed the tiny green shoots so far below?

Look beyond what first catches your attention.

See what is breaking through.

Something new is waiting to be noticed.

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Potential for growth

My mother has a large vegetable garden, and I usually come over at the beginning of May to get a jump on the weeds that tend to take over the raspberries. This year, I was away at the beginning of May, and the raspberries dropped off my radar.

Needless to say, the weeds are now overtaking the raspberry plants.

Talking to my spiritual director, I used the weedy raspberries as an example of just one more thing in my life that needs attention.

“Let’s stay with the image of the weeds and the raspberries,” she suggested. “Can the raspberries be saved or is it too late?” she asked. Good question. I knew she had moved on from the actual raspberry/weed problem and was talking about the “weeds” in my life that may be choking out my growth.

We started talking about what was working and what wasn’t in my life. I happened to mention that I had been eating a lot of comfort food recently. “Why do you need comfort food?” she asked. Another good question.

Then I told her about someone who had emailed me that morning asking for career advice. I suggested that this person “act and not react.” As I wrote those words, I knew I was also talking to myself.God-mindfulness-faithMy spiritual director suggested I start with a clean sheet of paper and imagine my life—how I want it to look, what I want to do, etc. She encouraged me to look at both my work life and my personal life. She also advised I not try to put new wine into old wine skins—she is big on looking to the future instead of the past.

I can get stuck in the past, even though I know that what once was will never be again and that what once worked might not work any longer.God-mindfulness-faith“Start where you already have clarity,” she recommended.

I have clarity around my personal life—being near my family, my house and garden, hobbies, interests, etc.

I also have clarity about working at the cancer support center. I am well suited to work with people who are facing cancer and even facing death; I can be with people in painful situations without running away or trying to minimize their experiences. The work can be difficult, though, and I am finding some parts of the job very challenging. Some parts just don’t get done and can feel like weeds choking me.

“Can you see everything as a blessing?” my spiritual director asked. She was full of good questions that day!

As I pondered her questions and prayed for insight, I realized just how much energy I give to what once was, to what I used to do and to past hurts and injustices.

What would be more helpful is to let go of the past, live in the present and visualize the future I want. Then I will be more like a well-weeded garden with lots of potential for growth.

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Stepping into the future

I am usually a quick learner when it comes to concrete tasks, but learning abstract things—not so much. I am abstract-challenged. (I am also spatially-challenged, and maybe they go hand-in-­hand.)

When it comes to learning about myself and my emotional/spiritual/psychological self—those abstract characteristics—I have to admit that I am a slow learner. Processing new information about myself can take a long time.

Thankfully, God is very patient and never seems to tire of reminding me of areas where I need to change and grow.

At Mass last Sunday, three heart messages caught my attention. After the third, I wondered if anyone else in the congregation was getting this message or was God mainly speaking to me? I also wondered when I would actually get the message—take it in and make it a part of myself so that God (and I) can move on to something new. God has been inviting me to soften my heart for as long as I can remember.

And there they were last Sunday—three references to the heart, to my heart.God-transformation-vulnerabilityLast weekend, I also did a major house cleaning and clearing out, including journals from the past twenty years. My plan had been to read them one more time and save anything that seemed important, but I could not seem to get started on that project. One day, it occurred to me to just throw them all away. Even thinking that thought made me feel lighter and freer. And when I hauled the contractor-size black trash bag to the curb, I felt a space open up inside me.

I am done with the past; I want to move on into the future. I want a fresh start.God-transformation-vulnerabilityBut there was God reminding me of my heart. If I had taken the time to read my old journals, I know the heart theme would be a thread throughout. Will I ever get the message?  Will I ever make the leap of faith that will move me toward becoming a soft-hearted person?

Open my heart, I pray

To love

To joy

To fun

To happiness—and yes, even to the possibility of pain and sorrow. They go hand in hand.God-transformation-vulnerabilityOpen my heart, I pray. Create fissures where fear can escape and light can get in. Create spaces in my heart, gaps ready to be filled in—with trust, hope and love.God-transformation-vulnerabilityI want love, hope and trust and the blessings they will bring. I want a heart big enough to hold pains and sorrows and still have room for love—a heart that won’t shy away from grief but be pliable enough to hold both loss and hope.God-transformation-vulnerabilityI pray that God reshape my heart into something more closely aligned with his vision for me, a heart able to absorb the pain and sorrow of my life and of the world, able to live with loss—and still see beauty and hope—and to embrace the gift in all of it.

Read the neon signs

Sitting at a bar with two friends one evening, one shared that he suspected his wife was having an affair. We asked why he thought that. He explained that her job at a bank, a job she had had for many years, was always a 9-5 kind of job, but recently, she had begun to work a lot of late nights and even weekends and some overnights.

“Read the neon signs,” my other friend advised.

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That memory resurfaced while I was walking the dog this morning and begged the question, “What neon signs am I not reading?”

Sometimes ignoring reality is much easier than facing it. Looking back on my life, I can see many times when I refused to read the neon signs. I did not want to face the truth and have to deal with the fallout. I have often taken the attitude that if I ignore something long enough, it will go away, which can work.

But, living that way requires me to ignore my intuition and to suppress my feelings. It takes a lot of energy to deny reality and to pretend that everything is okay when, at some level, I know it is not.

God calls me to pull my head from the sand and face the difficulties I have been trying to avoid, the reality I have been ignoring. God calls me to live in a truth that sets me free.

Sometimes, as in my friend’s situation, the signs are pretty clear. Other times, though, the signs are not as easy to see.

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I must be in one of those cloudy periods now, because I don’t have a clue why this memory came back to me or what new lesson it is inviting me to learn. I can’t see what I can’t see, and I don’t know what I don’t know.

Could the neon signs be related to my relationship with Jesus and how I am feeling disconnected?

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Could it have something to do with my desire to move from full-time work to semi-retirement?

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Or does it have something to do with forming new relationships as I settle into life in Michigan?

Or….

I pray that God will open my eyes so I can see what is probably right in front of me—and then give me the courage to act. I want to be free. I want my life to be authentic.

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