Tag Archives: learning

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).

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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.

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An act of kindness

I was introduced to the treasures of libraries in elementary school. Our school library was paneled in dark mahogany and was, of course, very quiet; just walking into the room calmed me.

The nearest public library was a half mile from home and as soon as I was able to walk there on my own, I became a regular patron. By the time I was twelve, I was taking the bus downtown to the Main Branch of the Detroit Public Library.

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Main Branch, Detroit Public Library

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Fine Arts Reading Room, Main Branch, Detroit Public Library

The libraries in my young life were havens, offering me peace while there—and then adventures through the books I carried home.

I think it was no accident that my neighborhood library was named after Laura Ingalls Wilder; her books opened my eyes to a different way of life in a different era.

As a teen, I volunteered at my local library and was entrusted with re-shelving books. My reading list was influenced by which books repeatedly appeared on my cart.

Looking back, I can see that those early library experiences formed not only my love of reading but also my sense of adventure and love of travel.expectations-mindfulness-blessingLibraries are a world I inhabit comfortably—no matter where they are.

In England last summer, I checked emails on the public computer at the Chipping Campden Library. A large jigsaw puzzle caught my eye. It was half finished, and the librarian told me everyone was welcome to help finish the puzzle. I brought that idea back to the cancer support center where I work, and we now have a puzzle in process.

Last week, doing research at the Wayne State University Library, I passed by their community jigsaw puzzle and wondered if the librarian there had also been to Chipping Campden!expectations-mindfulness-blessingLibraries continue to offer new books, new programs, new ways for communities to come together and new resources. Although my relationship with libraries spans sixty years, I can still be surprised when I visit the library.

When I was checking out some books at my local library the other day, the woman at the counter said, “Just a minute,” and she walked to the far end of the counter. I wondered what was going on.

“You left this in a book you returned,” she said, handing me a bookmark with the Doors of Dublin printed on one side. It had been a gift from a friend who had visited Ireland. “How did you know it was mine?” I asked.

She explained than they flip through books before re-shelving them, and when they found the bookmark, they looked up who had most recently checked out the book.

The kindness of that gesture surprised me.

I realized that I expect library staff to be informative and helpful, but this was an act of kindness beyond anything I had expected. It was a pleasant surprise, and the positive feeling has lingered.

I feel so fortunate that I became acquainted with the library so young and grateful that I feel at home there.expectations-mindfulness-blessing

vulnerability-God-compassion

What I am learning from my tears

The other morning at prayer, these words from Ezekiel 47 caught my attention:

I saw water flowing out from beneath the threshold of the temple….Along both banks of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow, their leaves shall not fade nor their fruit fail. Every month they shall bear fresh fruit, for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary.vulnerability-God-compassion

Lately, I have I have been very emotional, and I am unable to stop my tears from flowing.

I grew up in one of those families where crying was discouraged; tears usually elicited a response of, “I’ll give you something to cry about.”

Then, in my twenties, I worked for the FBI where agents used to tell me to “toughen up.” This was usually in response to a mood-shift after my oh-so-easily-hurt feelings had been hurt. I would sulk and feel sorry for myself, but I would try not to cry.

My years at the FBI did toughen me up. I tried to keep inside any emotion that might make me look weak or vulnerable. Being tough (or at least looking tough) was my goal, so I swallowed my emotions.

At some point in my life, though, I realized the pendulum had swung too far and that I had developed an impenetrable shell to protect myself from criticism that I was weak. That shell helped me feel invincible and kept me from feeling vulnerable. It also kept others away.vulnerability-God-compassionOne of the good things about getting old is that I can look back on so many opportunities God has given me to move against my resistance to being vulnerable. God invites me not to toughen up but to soften up.vulnerability-God-compassionAs I read the words of Ezekiel, I wondered if my tears are the river that gives me life.vulnerability-God-compassionRecently, as I watched a high school volleyball game, tears started rolling down my face. The same thing happened a few weeks earlier at the Motown Museum while watching the movie about the early days of Barry Gordy and the high school students who would become his stars.

Reading a novel about Puritans in Connecticut, tears welled up and spilled over. Watching television, seeing a rainbow, spotting a butterfly—I have no idea what will set off a tearful episode.

I try to let the tears flow freely. I want the emotions to be set free—rather than tamped down or stifled.

My recent tears tell me that my protective shell has a crack in it, and I want to widen that crack. I want to acknowledge my fears and insecurities. I want to be softer. But it is not easy.

My early training sets me up to be afraid of showing my vulnerability, and fear can be a powerful paralyzer.

But, God keeps prompting me—with the words of scripture, my memories and my tears. I know I that I can sit with the discomfort of feeling vulnerable and not be overwhelmed.

Let the tears flow.vulnerability-God-compassion

 

 

 

 

 

Ten years later, this same niece instructed me, “Expand your color palette, Aunt Madeline,” after I had commented that the scarf she had selected for me in shades of gold and brown was unlike everything in my closet.

Expand your color palette

 

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“Purple and green,” my five-year-old niece responded when I asked, “What is your favorite color?” I was planning to sew her a dress.

Purple and green? Two colors I would not have put together.

But to please her (and because I had asked) I set out to find fabric with those two colors. It turned out my niece knew more about colors than I did; I found lots of fabric in combinations of purple and green. How had I never noticed this color combination before?

Ten years later, this same niece instructed me, “Expand your color palette, Aunt Madeline,” after I had commented that the scarf she had selected for me in shades of gold and brown was unlike everything in my closet.

I doubt that my niece meant anything deeper than encouraging me to diversify the colors in my closet (I mainly wrote black clothes accessorized with colorful scarves), but simple words often hold deeper meanings.

Both her “favorite” color combination and her color palette comment have come back to me on numerous occasions—sometimes when I am considering a clothing purchase, but also when I find myself looking at something as I always have and am resistant to change the way I see, those times when I hold tight to what I believe, when I know what I know.

What if I could see things differently? What if I expanded my palette to see situations from different perspectives?

“Look for golf balls in the trees,” our Alaskan tour guide instructed us. “Each one is the head of an Eagle.” Where before I could not find even one Eagle, all of a sudden I saw many; trees were full of them. They were right before my eyes; I only needed to know what I was looking for.

This kind of looking and seeing requires an awareness and an openness. I need to be able to admit that I have narrow vision and preconceived ideas in order to consider seeing in a different way. And I need to be open to reality from a different perspective.

Difficult for me to do, especially because I like my views—and my friends tend to agree with me—so I must be right—right? What if God does not care about my need to be right?

After the U.S. presidential election last fall, a friend got an interesting assignment in her inter-faith dialogue group. The group leader invited them to interview someone who had voted for the “other” candidate. The caveat was that they were just to listen to the response—not to challenge the person’s decision or to defend their own votes, but just to listen.vulnerability-God-spiritualitySo often, I think I know why people do what they do—without even asking.

What if God is inviting me to ask questions and listen for answers that might not support my view? What if God is asking me to use my eyes to see and my ears to hear? To truly expand my palette?

 

 

 

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Do more of this

I recently attended a workshop at a local nursery called Hydrangeas 101, covering the basics of successfully growing Hydrangeas. I had questions about the one that came with my house, as this is my first experience with this particular flower.

When I moved here, I had Googled “pruning Hydrangeas” and learned that pruning was a no-no. Numerous websites advised planting them where they have enough room to grow to their full size. Mine has room; I was more interested in knowing if it needed to be pruned for its health.

At the end of the hour-long workshop, I had the answers to my questions, and I walked out of the nursery aware that I was feeling light and happy.

Gardening is one of my favorite things and learning about flowers is as much fun as the actual gardening. I joined the local garden club when I moved here four years ago, to learn what is indigenous and what grows best in this zone. Now, I watch Monarch butterflies on Echinacea and hummingbirds at the Rose of Sharon.prayer-examen-garden

But, back to the workshop and the lightness I felt when I left.

I am by nature a curious person. Not nosey (I barely know my neighbors or their habits), but inquisitive; I love to learn.

As I walked out of the nursery, the words that popped into my heard were, Do more of this. The feeling was similar to the one I have when I am leaving my Polish classes—happy, light and free.

Entering with the awareness that I am seeking knowledge and leaving having acquired something—a clearer understanding of what my Hydrangea needs in order to be happier, or perhaps one new Polish word—it does not have to be much to make me happy.

Do more of this. The words reminded me of a prayer practice developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola called The Examen.

St. Ignatius saw the benefit of periodically stopping during the day and looking at how the day was going. Was he drawing closer to God through his words and actions? Or was he moving away from God?

I have heard The Examen explained in a number of ways, but the main point is to look at how the day is unfolding, to look at patterns in our lives, and to do more of the things that draw us closer to God and less of those that take us away from God.prayer-examen-gardenI tend to think of gratitude as an indicator of how my day is going. If it am feeling grateful, things are generally good. If I am feeling resentful or jealous or put upon in some way, I know I need to change something because what I am doing is moving me away from God.

The Examen can be helpful in leading me away from toxic people and situations. It can help point out patterns that are harmful and also patterns that are grace-filled. The Examen redirects me toward God and freedom.

 

 

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Better self-care

My Polish classes started a few weeks ago—five adults gathering every Tuesday evening at a Catholic church, each with our own reason for wanting to learn this difficult language. My classmates are all new to Polish, but I have been studying it off and on since 2009, including Rosetta Stone at home and a two-week immersion course in Krakow in 2010.

adult-educationI had wanted to enroll in this class last winter, but my work schedule got in the way. This fall, though, I am committed to attending Polish classes.

As I left the building at the end of the first class and walked across the parking lot to my car, I felt a deep sense of joy, and that feeling has accompanied me to each succeeding class. I love this class. It makes me happy.

It is not that joy is foreign to me. I have known many joyful times in my life. But the past ten years seem to have had more hardship than happiness and I think I had grown accustomed to the sadness.

More joy is what I want and what I believe God wants for me. “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete,” Jesus says. (John 15:11)

Complete joy.

Talking with my spiritual director about the joy of my Polish class, she suggested that perhaps I have been overly-focused on the needs of others for the past number of years, to the detriment of my own needs. She recommended that I look for more opportunities to do things that are just for me.

Her suggestion reminded me of an incident from a past job. A colleague and I were looking at calendars, trying to figure out when we could schedule a meeting, I noticed her calendar had “TFM” marked each day. Thirty to sixty minutes were blocked out every day with this three-letter notation.

“What is ‘TFM’?” I asked.

“Time for me,” she said.

“Every day, you take time for yourself?” I asked somewhat incredulously.

“Good self-care,” she responded.

Even then, I knew that I was not particularly good at self-care. I promoted it to others—“be gentle with yourself,” I might say or “take care of yourself,” but I am not good at following my own advice.

I take quiet time in the mornings, but once the day starts, I tend to steamroll through, often ignoring the signs of stress or exhaustion.

Perhaps it is time to revisit the concept of “TFM” and plan to do more things that will bring me joy. Perhaps it is time to resurrect that list of things I like to do—sewing, going to plays, hiking, visiting museums, walking through gardens, poking around in little shops—things that make me happy, and schedule them into my calendar.

The thing about self-care is that no one can do it for me; I have to decide and then follow through. Only then will I know more joy.

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