Tag Archives: learning

Imagination in prayer

At Mass last Sunday, we heard the story of the Prodigal Son with intro parables about the lost sheep and the lost coin. (Luke 15:1-32) These stories introduce us to at least nine (9) characters:

  1. a shepherd whose one sheep has strayed
  2. a woman who lost a coin
  3. the friends and neighbors who rejoice when the sheep and coin are found
  4. a man who has two sons
  5. the older son
  6. the younger son
  7. the pig farmer who starved his workers
  8. the father’s servants and
  9. the older son’s friends

Nine different personalities inviting me to step into the stories and imagine myself in each role.

All week, I have engaged in imaginative prayer with the scenes in this Scripture, placing myself in each of the roles portrayed, letting the scene play out and looking at how I am like the person or how I am different.

For example, when am I put myself in the place of the shepherd, I wondered if I would be willing to leave what I have in search for something lost. It is a risk to leave the safety of the known, and I wondered if I would take the risk.

My opportunities to take risk don’t usually involve sheep, but as I let this image play out, I thought about the safety and security of my circle of friends, and I wondered if I am willing to take the risk of inviting someone into my circle of friends or even just to reach out to someone who seems to be on the outside. Do I tend to play it safe or am I willing to stretch beyond my comfort zone?

prayer-God-mindfulness

The woman who searches for something precious that has been lost is an easy one for me to imagine because I frequently lose things (mostly earrings, which is why I had an extra hole pierced in one ear so I can still wear the remaining earring). I tend to tear the house apart and retrace my steps looking for a lost earring. But what about other things? Do I persevere or give up? Do I persevere in prayer? In hope?

How am I like the forgiving father? The rebellious son? Or the dutiful son? When am I like the servant who has to prepare something for others to enjoy while I just look on? Or like the local pig farmer who cares more for his pigs than the people who work for hm? How do I react when a friend complains about unfair treatment from a parent?

Each of the people in these stories help me to see myself in relation to God and to others. Each invites me to imagine myself inside the Scripture passage and learn something about myself, others and God.

On my walk one day, I realized that each person represents a different character trait, and it reminded me of the words stenciled at my neighborhood school—incoming messages through different avenues.

prayer-God-mindfulness

Living excessively

My daily walk includes a path through a park along the shore of Lake Saint Clair, a lake so large I cannot see the opposite shore. The other day, the sky was overcast and the lake a dull gray, when, all of a sudden, the sun broke through the clouds, shining on the water, and the water shimmered. Where seconds before there had only been dullness, now the water sparkled, and I stopped to look.

Three words popped into my mind: Think BIG thoughts!

Vast is the sky overhead and the water at my feet, inviting me to be expansive, to live in the abundance that our God offers us. It was a mystical moment.

Our culture encourages people to think big thoughts about success, possessions, money—building financial portfolios, expanding business, growing wealth—all with an eye toward more money and bigger things—houses, cars, etc. Excessiveness is a word we tend to associate with wealth and the way wealthy people spend their money—mansions, yachts, elaborate vacations, expensive clothes.

God-abundance-gratitude

But what if we focused our big thoughts on building, expanding and growing love, forgiveness, acceptance and compassion. What if we were excessive with kindness, gratitude and mercy? What if we focused our wants on others instead of ourselves? What if we thought big thoughts about goodness, curiosity and generosity? Pie in the sky? Perhaps.

As I walked home from the lake that day, I passed the elementary school near my house and noticed words stenciled on the sidewalk. The school district has a character-building program focused on developing positive habits in the children and more than a dozen sidewalk blocks had words on them.

I remembered back to the beginning of the pandemic when children wrote messages of hope in sidewalk chalk.

We all need daily reminders to develop positive character traits.

What does all this mean for me? What BIG thoughts am I meant to be thinking? What positive character traits am I meant to be developing? What can I do that will help spread the message of Jesus to love, forgive, accept, hope, trust, persevere?

Feeling blessed

I had another dog-sitting gig this week, with a sweet Brittany Spaniel pup who happens to live on a lake, so it was like being on vacation. Just before coming to the lake, my sister brought me a box of chocolates from Paris, and so I enjoyed them while watching the dog play by the water. Life is good.

blessed-God-gratitude
Looking out the window onto the lake.

All week, I felt incredibly blessed. It seemed that one good thing after another kept coming my way. I finished my Internship in Ignatian Spirituality, a two-year program with quite rigorous requirements; got invited to speak at a fundraising dinner for a local non-profit; was asked to consult on a project; the last of my home-improvements projects was completed; and I got to share the lake view with several friends who came to visit. A very good week.

At the same time, a cough has settled in my chest, and I can’t seem to shake it. It worries me because I am someone who rarely gets sick—and when I do, I usually respond to medicine. Not this time, though.

I am doing what I can about the cough, following doctor’s orders (getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of fluids, taking my medicine) and, at the same time, trying to focus more on the good things happening in my life.

Balancing life’s challenges with life’s blessings is a work we are all called to.

Being grateful for the good in my life and putting more energy into the positives helps tip the scales toward the blessings. I can’t ignore the challenges, but I can keep them in perspective.

blessed-God-gratitude

And I can remember that most growth comes from challenges. I am where I am because of the struggles I have gone through.

After a particularly difficult time in my life, I came to believe that God holds all the cards, and my job is to play the hand I am dealt. Sometimes that hand is a winner, and other times I just want to throw in the cards and ask for a re-deal.

God invites me to stick with it, even when my cards are lousy, to keep looking for glimmers of hope and to remember that God is with me through it all.

Hiking in southeast Michigan

Our community college offers enrichment programs for retirees at very reasonable prices. I signed up for a summer series of five events (a lecture and tour of the Zoo’s Penguinarium, a talk on hiking in Southeast Michigan, two hikes and a canoe trip on a voyageur canoe).

The hiking talk was at the Community College on Monday, and I learned loads of useful information that would have helped when I was hiking in the Cotswolds (without a cell phone or map) or in the Lake District in northern England in November (when it got dark much earlier than in July) or in Sedona last January (where it was so cold when we left it did not occur to us to bring water). I came away from that talk thinking that I could be the poster child for what not to do when hiking. Note to self–always bring cell phone, printed map (in case my cell battery dies), compass, water, snack, flashlight.

The first hike was this morning at Stony Creek Metro Park, one of a network of thirteen parks in Southeast Michigan.

Stony Creek encompases more than 4,000 acres and has trails and paths for walking, running and bike riding. We walked along a trail through prairies and woods for a little more than two miles. Here are some pics I took along the way.

MORE-MetroParks-nature
MORE-MetroParks-nature
MORE-MetroParks-nature
Bees seemed to love these flowers.

MORE-MetroParks-nature

Shh, it’s a secret

Just days before my mother died last year, she revealed a secret to me, a secret she had kept for almost fifty years, a secret that flipped a light switch in my brain. Suddenly, I could look at events from fifty years ago and see them in a different light.

secret-truth-vulnerability

The clarity was almost blinding, and I wanted to explore the implications of what I had learned, but my mother was dying, and I needed to pay attention to what was happening right in front of me instead of examining events from the past. So, I tucked her secret away.

And then one day last fall, her secret came rushing back to me like a tidal wave.

I was overwhelmed with a truth I had never even considered, a truth that explained my father’s attitude toward me after I got divorced. I realized that my life could have gone in an entirely different direction had I known then what my mother had revealed before her death.

I was hurt and angry.

Moreover, my mother’s secret dislodged a secret that I had been keeping for more than fifty years, a secret I was not consciously aware I was keeping.

Suddenly, disparate pieces of my early twenties fell into place like cogs on a gear. I had great clarity about my early life and things that had happened to me that had shaped the rest of my life.

secret-truth-vulnerability

At family gatherings, my younger brother liked to point to my mother and then to me and say, “Tree, apple.”

My mother was great at denial and at keeping secrets. She denied anything bad that happened to her and would not risk disclosing an unattractive (or downright ugly) truth about someone, in case it might be embarrassing (or possibly illegal). She protected people who were not worthy of protection, and she taught me to do the same.

Like my mother, I am a great secret keeper, a steel trap for people’s confidences, and I have held sacred the secrets people have shared with me over the years.

What I know about secrets, though, is that the shame attached to them can turn something innocent into something sinister, and I know how shame can paralyze.  

A few years ago, when I finally said the name of the man who raped me, I realized I had been protecting him by not saying his name; I was keeping it secret.

Saying his name—revealing the secret—broke the power of shame over me.

Back to the tree…apple scenario.

I have spent my adult life trying to unlearn my mother’s lessons, trying to be more honest and forthcoming. I have gone to ACOA meetings and worked the steps. I know that we are only as sick as our secrets, and I have tried to live transparently, without secrets.

And yet now I am faced with two new secrets from my past.

But those events are no longer buried, and I have begun talking about what happened to me.

Extra touches

This was the first time I traveled with Overseas Advendure Travel (O.A.T.) and hopefully not my last. O.A.T. specializes in small groups and solo-travelers; we were eight people for our main tour (three more had planned to come but covid changed their plans), and I did not have to pay a “solo-supplement” to have my own room. Some other pluses were that we stayed in each location for several nights, giving me time to get to know a place a bit and also setting a comfortable travel pace. We did day trips and also participated in a number of activities that added interest to the trip.

In Barbizon, I took a sculpture class with Melanie Quentin.

O.A.T.-travel-mindfulness
My artistic talents are somewhat limited; but it was great fun working with clay. I have a new appreciation for sculptors.

Bayeux is known for lace-making. We visited the Museum of Fine Arts and then I took a lace-making class with Cécile Roquier at the Lace Conservatory.

O.A.T.-travel-mindfulness
Hand-made lace using bobbins. It took me a little bit of practice to learn the process of criss-crossing the bobbins to make a pattern.
O.A.T.-travel-mindfulness
The project I worked on. The process is slow (perhaps because I was new); I added maybe six rows to this piece.
O.A.T.-travel-mindfulness
Madame Roquier made these lace hearts and is selling them to raise money to support Ukrainian refugees.

From Carcassone (where we stayed inside the walled city), we ventured out to Chateau Auzias. We walked through the vineyard and learned about the pruning process. Then we toured the Cave, where the wine is made, and then we had the opportunity to mix our own red blend.

O.A.T.-travel-mindfulness
Anastasia getting ready for our wine blending class.

At Maison Fleuret in Paris, we took a macaron-making class . Let me just say that making macarons is as much science as baking, and I have a new appreciation for all that goes into making them.

O.A.T.-travel-mindfulness
The finished product!

Touring with O.A.T. was fun and educational. I am still on a “travel high” even though I have been home more than a month.

My self-care plan

In January 2021, after a couple of years of increasingly serious health challenges, my mom went on hospice. She was ninety-four years old, her heart was getting weaker and she had other health issues. I was still working, and I spent much of my after-work time at my mom’s. I was already a bit worn out, and I knew the most challenging times were ahead.

I worked at a cancer support center and continually encouraged people to take care of themselves, especially those in the care-giver role. I decided to take my own advice.

One self-care plan for me is to have something to look forward to, something exciting to plan for and anticipate.

Several years earlier, I had been to Paris, and I wanted to see more of France, but I don’t speak French, so I booked a land tour of France with Overseas Adventure Travel (O.A.T.) for March 2022. It was more than a year away, and I bought insurance so I could postpone if need be, but once it was booked, the trip dangled in front of me like a sparking gem.

I began to read books set in France, particularly books related to World War II and the actions of the French government and the resistance movement. I love history and especially enjoy reading historical fiction.

My mom’s care became more consuming as the weeks and months went on, and my dream of traveling in France helped sustain me.

My mom died in June, and grief replaced dreaming; France settled somewhere in the recesses of my brain.

And then one day last November, I remembered my trip to France. I called OAT and asked where I was in the process. Yes, I had booked the trip; I still needed to do some administrative tasks and book my flights. Once those were completed, I began again to dream of France.

Since I was going to Europe, I decided to add a week at the beginning of my trip to visit friends in Ireland. It was great to see them again after five years, and we had a wonderful time. Then I was on to France.

On the way from the Charles De Gaulle Airport to Fontainebleau (the first stop on my tour) I noticed trees along the highway which had things that seemed to be huge nests in them. I asked the tour guide, and he said they were mistletoe.

He explained that mistletoe is a parasite and if left untreated, it kills the trees.

I had never given any thought to where mistletoe grows or that it might be harmful. This is going to be an adventure of learning, I thought—beyond my expectations or hopes or dreams.

Sure enough, there were surprises almost every day. We traveled for three weeks, from Fontainebleau to Normandy in the north, south to Carcassonne, and north to Paris—the mistletoe in the trees along the highways serving as a reminder to let go of my expectations and be open.

Be the seed

Wrapped in the embrace of one you love,

dwelling in the affirmation of the one who loves you,

surrender to the knowledge that you are accepted as you are.

You are good enough and even more.

You are who you were meant to be,

where you are meant to be,

learning from the past,

leaning into the future.

Think of the seeds of a flower,

caught on the breeze,

spreading their beauty far and wide,

because they are light enough

to be lifted and carried.

To be that light, that free,

that we can trust the wind

to carry our goodness to the world,

which needs our love and

gentleness so that others can know themselves

as good enough and even more.

Waiting

“How is retirement so far?” my older brother recently asked.

“Every day feels like Saturday,” I replied.

“That’s retirement,” he said.

Saturdays have always been my “catch-up” days—grocery shopping, cleaning, running errands, etc. All those things I did not get to during the week were seen to on Saturdays.

With no work and no “mom duty,” my calendar is clear, and I have loads of time to spread out my shopping, housework and errands throughout the week.

Last weekend, I attended a (virtual) retreat for people in transition, and the question that snagged my attention comes from 1 Kings 19:13, when the Lord asked Elijah, “What are you doing here?”

It took me back to when I worked for an adult literacy council and often spoke to community groups about our work. I usually asked an adult learner to accompany me and share how we had helped.

One of the adult learners spoke of the challenges of learning English. She would say that the two questions, “How are you?” and “How are you doing?” confused her because she thought she was being asked two different questions. The word “doing” threw her.

I thought the same as I listened to the question to Elijah. What was he doing there? He wasn’t doing anything, really, just standing outside waiting for God to come by.

It occurred to me that different questions might have been, “Why are you here?” or “What are you looking for?” or “What do you want?”

Now that I am no longer working and no longer caring for my mom—two things I used to do—I am asking myself, “What am I doing here?” and is it ok to do nothing, to just stand outside and wait for God to pass by?

God-mindfulness-vulnerability

Empowered

My grandparents all came from Poland, and my desire to visit my ancestral home has been with me since I was a child. I had asked my mother to take me to Poland as a college graduation gift, and the trip was on—until martial law was declared in Poland my senior year, and the trip was off.

It took me another thirty years to get to Poland. Once there, I realized that Polish people thought I was one of them. Time after time, people in shops and restaurants spoke Polish to me, even after I explained I did not speak Polish. How I looked was more convincing than what I said. I felt I had come home.

The next year, I returned to Poland for an immersion language course, and I stayed with a host family. Again, I had a strong sense of belonging. Everywhere I looked, I saw people who looked like my relatives, and I was continually doing double-takes.

On that second trip, I decided I wanted to go a third time—an extended trip (maybe even a few months) to see more of the country and visit the places my grandparents came from.

Then life intervened, and ten years have passed without a return trip to Poland.

I recently attended a workshop on Empowerment, and the presenter asked us to write down what we hoped to accomplish in 2021 and why. The why part intrigued me.

I remembered something from adult education theory about how adults need a reason to learn something. Unlike children, who can soak up random knowledge just because they are told to, adults need a reason. We need to see that what we are learning will help us in some way, often help us achieve a goal, and the goal must have a purpose.

In adult education, we tried to help people who needed a GED or were learning English to see how their lives would be improved by achieving their goals. Writing down their goals and their reasons for the goals helped keep them on track.

I have been studying Polish off and on for the past ten years because I want to be able to communicate my basic needs when I go back to Poland (mainly things like making sure the doughnut I pick has the filling I want).

fear-trust-dreams

During the Empowerment workshop, I shared my desire to go to Poland, and the presenter asked why I had not done it. I had not given much thought to the reason behind my procrastination, but in that moment, I could see it was not just life intervening, but also unconscious messages were stopping me from achieving this goal.

The presenter suggested some possible reasons: I don’t deserve it, or I fear people’s judgment or I am scared of failure. All possible for me.

After ten years of saying I want to return to Poland, my goal for 2021 is to plan the trip and be ready to take off in 2022.

fear-trust-dreams