The waves meet the shore
and leave their treasures behind.
Delight in the gifts.
The waves meet the shore
and leave their treasures behind.
Delight in the gifts.
This day starts like every other and
has the same twenty-four hours as every other.
And yet, it is unlike every other day that has gone before it.
This day gifts me with an open space, a clean slate.
How will I fill the space?
What will I write on the slate?
Will I notice the gifts of all that lays open before me?
The birds singing, blue sky, the gentle breeze?
Will I appreciate the dark skies as much as the blue?
Or the rude stranger as much as the kind one?
Will I accept the good and the bad with open hands,
allowing neither to swing me too high or too low?
Will I thank God for all the comes my way and
offer a blessing on everyone I meet?
This day lays open before me,
inviting me to approach with eager anticipation.
It asks me to add kindness and beauty,
to write words of praise and gratitude,
to live this day as if it were my only one.
If I can do that, I will know myself as blessed and
close my eyes at the end of this day
and sleep in peace.
Someone recently asked me: What silver linings have you seen during the pandemic?
As a person who believes every curse has a blessing, I have been actively looking for silver linings since this time of social distancing began more than three months ago. Some of the blessings I have seen are:
I have had more time for hobbies, and I have read more books, completed more jigsaw puzzles and knitted more than I usually would. I have already knitted two gifts for next Christmas, which is not at all like me—I am usually knitting frantically the week before Christmas (or giving a certificate for a promised knitted article to arrive sometime after Christmas).
I have exercised more than I usually would. I am a morning exerciser and have still be going for my morning walk, but I think that staying in the house all day can make me feel cooped up, so I often go for an evening walk or bike ride.
Ten years ago, I went on a two-week language immersion course in Krakow, Poland. I had worked through the first part of Rosetta Stone Polish before that trip, and I have taken a couple of Polish classes since, but this time of isolation has given me the space to focus on my Polish. Almost every day, I spend time on Rosetta Stone, and most evenings, I practice what I have learned with my mother, whose first language was Polish. She says I am “coming along.”
My garden has gotten more attention this year because I usually go away in spring—on retreat or a vacation—but this year I have been home. I have also enjoyed my garden more this year because I spend lots of time in my sunroom, looking out over the yard. My sunroom doubles as my home office, another gift of this time. I miss seeing my co-workers in person, but even after we return to work, I may hold the occasional staff meeting in my home office/sunroom.
The other day I was reflecting on how these months at home have given me the space to explore new things. I find I am more open to consider different ways of doing everyday things. One of those is my charitable giving. I receive a fair number of requests from nonprofit organizations, and usually I toss the ones I don’t already support. But over the past few months, I have had the time to look at what comes in the mail. As a result, I have sent contributions to two organizations for the first time, even though they have probably been asking me for years.
These past few months felt like a long pause, and I have taken this opportunity to step back and look at my life. Having this extended period to review and reflect has been a gift, and I hope the lessons stay with me when we re-engage.
How about you? What silver linings have you seen during the pandemic?
One of the joys of going on retreat is that I take the time to read the notes and reflections that I keep in the pages of my Bible. I tend to tuck things into my Bible that I want to preserve—notes of gratitude, pictures of special events, prayer requests and reflection notes from past retreats.
Flipping through my Bible this week, I came across two notes that particularly spoke to me. The first said:
Remember the five simple rules to be happy:
Seemingly so simple, but any one of these five can trip me up. I decided to make a copy of this slip of paper and put it on my refrigerator so I can read it more often and be reminded of how simple it can be to be happy. I also tucked the original back into my Bible to be rediscovered at a later date.
The second reflection was in my friend Jim’s handwriting, and it said:
This is the beginning of a new day.
God has given me this day to use as I will.
I can waste it or use it for God.
What I do today is very important because I am exchanging a day of my life for it.
When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever, leaving something in its place I have traded for it.
I want it to be
good not evil
success not failure,
in order that I shall not forget the price I paid for it.
The morning meditation I am using for my retreat this year includes a similar reflection about looking at the twenty-four hours that are before me as an invitation and a gift—a day I have never lived before, a gift of twenty-four hours stretching out before me, inviting me to live each moment intentionally, fully awake, aware and present.
It is a good way to start every day.
And at the end of the day, I can look back with gratitude for all the gifts and blessings I was open to receive.
Do you keep little treasures in your Bible?
How do you prepare for the day? How do you review your day to gather the gifts that were presented to you?
A red streak catches my eye.
Are there more this year
Or am I just more aware?
So many birds crying out from the trees and
stopping by my yard,
looking for something to eat.
The downspout on my garage has become home to a robin,
sitting in her nest,
waiting for her eggs to hatch.
I keep vigil from the rocking chair on my porch.
Today a hummingbird visited my yard,
flitting among the flowers that hang from the shepherd’s crook.
I hope she comes back every day and blesses this space.
It is a gift of isolation, to have time to listen, to watch and
to see the gifts that are outside my window.
I believe that every curse has a blessing, and the invitation is for me to find those blessings. Sometimes, those blessings might take a long time to find, and sometimes, they are right in front of me.
The other day, a man I used to work with called me. I had not spoken with him for months, and when I heard his voice, my response was pure joy. I still smile when I think of his kindness in calling and checking up on me.
The next day, a woman I worked with in Pennsylvania called and, again, my response was pure joy. We chatted for a long time—a luxury of staying home with no place to go—and I felt blessed by her thoughtfulness in calling.
Similarly, I called a man I had not spoken with in several years. I knew him through a former job; I also knew that his wife had died six months ago. During prayer one morning, he came to mind, and I decided to call him later that day.
I can barely imagine how difficult this time of isolation is for people who are used to living with someone. I imagine their grief is magnified by the loss of human contact, and this man had been married for fifty years.
Anyway, we chatted for a while, and I was glad I had called him. Later, he left a voice message thanking me for calling and saying that my call had brightened his day. That call had brightened my day, too. I still smile when I think of that chat, of my joy at hearing his voice and catching up on his life and hearing news of mutual friends.
I had thought of calling this man whose wife had died before this pandemic, but I did not want to intrude on his grief, but we are all grieving now, so my call did not feel so intrusive.
One of the blessings of this time of isolation is the time and space to follow up on impulses to get in touch. I often think of people during my morning prayer, but except for my friends in Ireland, the timing is not right for a call (I usually pray before 7:00 a.m.). I do sometimes write notes to people who come to mind during prayer, which is another way of reaching out, and I have appreciated the notes I have received these past weeks. I set them on an end table as reminders that people are thinking of me.
Every friend who calls is a blessing. Everyone who sends me cards or cartoons is a blessing (especially the cartoons about the pets who cannot wait for the isolation to end so they can return to their normal isolation).
Finding joy during a time of anxiety is a gift. Even small bits of joy—a moment of gratitude, a smile or laugh—can dispel fear for a while.
Where are you finding joy during this time of isolation?
I had just finished making my purchase at Office Depot and complimented the young cashier on her earrings. I asked if she had made them. She hadn’t, and she told me where she bought them.
“Are they something you would wear?” she asked.
“I have been waiting for you,” she said. “Stay right there.”
She bent down, retrieved a package from the shelf beneath the counter and handed it to me.
I thanked her and walked out of the store with my gift—a small bag containing the same earrings she was wearing and a card with “Thank you” printed on the front and this handwritten message on the inside:
A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal. -Steve Maraboli.
Pass the kindness on. The world could use it.
She had drawn two hearts on the card and signed her name.
Since that encounter, I keep thinking of her intentionality and thoughtfulness. I am amazed at how planful she was in her act of kindness. It was only random in the sense of her having no idea who would receive it.
That encounter reminded me of a woman I met years ago after her one-woman show performed in a small chapel at my university. I had approached her to thank her for her presentation and we discovered we had both lived in l’Arche communities.
She shared that she decided to move to l’Arche after meeting a man from my community who was visiting her college for a weekend workshop designed for students to learn about l’Arche. She said that Ross had walked right up to her, lightly touched her arm and said, “I have been looking for you.” She knew in that instant that she was supposed to live in l’Arche.
I didn’t tell her that Ross did that to many people, because it did not really matter. What mattered was that she was the one who was open to hearing his message; she was the one who responded to the invitation.
How many of us are waiting for someone to choose us to hear a certain message or receive a gift? How many of us are waiting for an invitation?
Conversely, how can we be instruments of change by acknowledging someone, by inviting others to see in new ways or by acts of kindness?
After I had met the woman from l’Arche, I often thought about how Ross knew which people to approach. I wondered if he had an intuition that certain people were waiting to be asked.
Now I can see that we are all waiting, even if we don’t know it.
I walked into that store with a list of things I needed to buy; I walked out with a deeper understanding of generosity.
I was deeply moved by that young woman’s act of kindness, and I find myself telling this story with a sense of wonder.
Have you had similar experiences? The world could use more kindness, so please share your stories.
This week is the lead-up to Valentine’s Day, a very busy time for chocolatiers, florists and jewelers. Cards and candy hearts bearing expressions of love are flying off the shelves.
I remember this holiday from my childhood as one of dread because of the custom of giving Valentine’s Day cards in school. I worried that I would not receive any or many. I feared being excluded because I was not one of the popular kids. I feared the cards I gave out would be rejected or found wanting.
For me, this holiday was not a celebration of love, but just another way to touch my insecurities and make me anxious.
Even though I grew past those early feelings about this holiday, I have remained aware of the cultural expectation of it and of those who still may feel left out, those who may see it as a spotlight on their loneliness.
Several years ago, someone made a comment that reminded me of the impact Valentine’s Day can have on those who feel excluded. So, I decided to celebrate February as the month of love, and each day, I sent a little note to let someone know I was thinking of him or her.
Mostly I sent these notes to people who would not be getting Valentine’s Day cards or gifts, those people who look forward to February 15.
I so enjoyed writing those notes that I did it again the next year and every year since. It has become something that I look forward to, and it has helped me to be excited for the holiday.
Each day in February, I devote part of my prayer time to thinking of those in my life who may be particularly vulnerable or sad or lonely, and I send a note. The notes are usually just a few lines, expressing my gratitude for our friendship or my hope for their peace.
It is a small act, I know, but one that I hope brings a little light to someone’s life.
How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day?
Next week, we are offering a Day of Reflection at the cancer center where I work. This year’s theme is Mindfulness, and my presentation will focus on the practice of paying attention to what grabs my interest, of noticing what I notice.
I recently came across a journal entry from a few years ago when a friend was facing cancer. My prayer for him was that he would be able to be present to what was instead of wishing for something else.
Staying in the present, especially when we are going through a time of uncertainty, difficulty or discomfort, can be challenging. I remember having an image of my friend with his heels dug in, as if resisting the reality of cancer was going to make it go away. Spending so much energy on wishing for a different present meant my friend missed lots of blessings that could not catch his attention; he was focused somewhere else.
It wasn’t until the last two weeks of his life, when he was on hospice, that he let go of his resistance and became aware of the present. In those last weeks, he was able to laugh again and to be grateful for all the people who gathered around him to show their love.
I plan to tell his story at next week’s Day of Reflection.
How much do we miss by wishing for something other than what we have?
Noticing what I notice, paying attention to what grabs my attention—and looking for the invitation in what catches me, is a way to be present to what is happening now in my life.
As part of my presentation, I will ask the participants to go for a little walk—it does not have to be far—and to pay attention to what they notice in the space surrounding them. Each person will notice something different—and even if two people notice the same thing, their reasons will be different.
You and I might walk to the corner and both notice the cedar tree out front. It may speak to you of strength and invite you to stand tall and straight; it may speak to me of color and invite me to live in technicolor.
Or we may both notice the red sportscar driving down the street. It may speak to you of speed and invite you to slow down; it may speak to me of travel and invite me to be open to something new.
It also might happen that the two of us hear the same invitation but from different sources—you may notice a fallen leaf that invites you to reflect on the cycle of life and I may notice a baby squirrel that prompts the same reflection.
The point is to notice what I notice and to hear the invitation in whatever presents itself to my consciousness. If I can do that, I will be more likely to be present to what is instead of wishing for something else.
What stirs your spirit?
A sunrise or sunset?
The gentle lapping of waves?
A walk in the woods?
Art or dance or theater?
Giving a gift or receiving one?
Being present to someone in need?
What stirs your spirit?
In the silence of meditation, God speaks.
Inviting me to be open,
To be ready to let the breath of the Spirit softly brush against my soul,
Reminding me I am called to love.