Tag Archives: memories


Does it bring you joy?

Does it bring you joy? Someone suggested asking this question when paring down my possessions.

After some pondering, I realized that when considering holding onto or getting rid of some possession, I am more apt to ask myself, would letting it go make me feel guilty?

I have been incredibly blessed by generous people throughout my life, and my house has lots of objects I received as gifts. I imagine if I had bought all of those things, it would be easier to let go of them, but so much of what I own has a story and a memory connected to it.

Is it possible to hold onto the memory and the story—and let go of the object?God-spirituality-joyMany years ago, I read a book about holding onto the gifts of retreat.

Retreats can be sacred moments in life, creating space to step out of daily routines, clear my mind of everyday worries, and focus on God and God’s will for me. Retreats offer the opportunity to get some distance and perspective, to look at how I am living and to consider any needed course corrections.

While on retreat, I often talk with God about what in my life needs to go—usually old fears, insecurities, anxieties and hurts.God-spirituality-joyHolding onto those insights from retreat once I am back in my daily routine can be a challenge. Daily prayer helps. Regular meetings with a spiritual director also help. This book suggested asking these questions about everyday situations:

  • Is this what I really want?
  • Will this matter tomorrow? In ten years? At the end of my life?
  • What do I think? feel? need? want?

The second set of questions has been the easiest for me to answer because I can see how insignificant many everyday occurrences really are. These questions have helped me let go of a great deal of hurt and anger. How much energy am I going to give to something that really has very little long-term significance?

The other questions, though, continue to challenge me. Like the question about what brings me joy, asking what I want or need seems somewhat foreign to me. It must be the way I was raised—spend very little time or thought on my own needs; focus more on the needs of others.  This is also the message I take from the Bible.

Of course, I know that I do have wants and needs, and over the course of my life, I have come to see how much healthier I am when I get in touch with them.

So, what is it that brings me joy? The objects in my home? Or the memories attached to them?

It is definitely the memories that remind me how blessed I have been.

Last year, I committed to writing a “love” letter every day in February—a note to someone who had blessed my life and brought me joy. I called it twenty-eight days of love. I thank I will do that again.God-spirituality-joy



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.

neon sign 4

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.

neon sign 1

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?


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

neon sign 2

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


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.

neon sign 6

Tapioca pudding and taking risks

Desserts that have no chocolate rarely appeal to me—why waste the calories?

There are a few exceptions, though, including tapioca.

One of the adjustments I had to make when I moved to Canada was different packaging for a host of food products, including tapioca. Growing up, we always had tapioca in the red box; I didn’t know it came any other way. In the house where I lived in Winnipeg, I found a bag of tapioca in the pantry and decided to try it. I read the directions on the bag, which were different from what I remembered on the red box, so I ignored them and cooked it the way I remembered it.

I hadn’t realized that tapioca in the red box was “instant” tapioca (even though it is called “minute” tapioca). The tapioca in the bag was “old-fashioned,” which means more than a minute.


Of course, the tapioca did not turn out—it was more like thick paste than tapioca—and I scraped the gooey mess out of the pot and into the trash, pledging that I would follow directions in the future.

The memory of that mistake came back to me the other day. I am not sure what triggered it, but I believe that memories bring a message that is relevant to my life today, and I have been pondering what the message of this memory might be.

Had I not followed directions? Had I rejected guidance or advice? Had I done something rash? Irresponsible? Why had this memory come back to me now? And what was the message?

Shortly before I remembered the tapioca incident, a friend and I had been talking about retirement and what we might do when the time comes. I often find myself daydreaming about retirement, even though it is still some years off.

She said she feels God is calling her to generativity.

“Be generative,” I said, and the phrase stayed with me. In the days following that chat, I repeatedly said to myself, be generative.

But what does generativity look like for me? And is it somehow connected to the memory of the tapioca disaster?

In thinking about it, I realized that I used to be much more impulsive and spontaneous. I thought directions were merely suggestions, and I didn’t necessarily believe they were meant for me. It wasn’t just with tapioca, but with most everything in my life. I was more of a rule-breaker than a rule-follower.

Over the years, though, the pendulum has swung in the other direction and I have become much more of a rule-follower. I tend it play it safe, taking fewer risks and being more aware of how things might look to others. I still have wild impulses, but I rarely act on them.

Perhaps, the pendulum has swung too far, and the key to generativity for me is to take more risks and be more spontaneous. Maybe it is time to step out of my comfort zone and take a chance.

“Today is my birthday”

“Today is my birthday,” I repeated cheerfully. It was like I was six or four rather than sixty-four.

Throughout that day, though, my sixtieth birthday kept coming to mind.

That was the birthday I spent at the New Jersey Shore, watching the sun rise over the ocean, waiting for dolphins to swim by and taking stock of my life. I was caring for my friend Jim, who had brain cancer. We had come to the Shore a few days earlier, the day after we learned Jim had a blood clot in his left lung.

This was three months after Jim’s cancer diagnosis. He had already spent six weeks in the hospital—surgery, recovery, rehabilitation, another surgery….When finally released, his mantra was “No more hospitalizations.”

Then one day, he started having trouble breathing. A trip to the ER confirmed a blood clot. Jim refused to be hospitalized, and so a nurse taught me how to give him injections of blood thinners. We had plans to leave for Ocean City the next day and Jim would not change our plans.

His oncologist was adamant that Jim be hospitalized, even warning that Jim would die without hospitalization.  “Then he will die at the Shore,” I said with more bravado than I felt.

Jim had always loved spending time at the Jersey Shore. The peace and quiet suited him. He was okay to die there.

So I called the funeral director and relayed the oncologist’s warning. He gave me his cell number and told me to call if needed.

And off we went.

The drive to the Jersey Shore had always seemed smooth, but Jim’s blood clot revealed every bump in the road, every uneven seam between lanes. His face was set in a grimace the entire hour and twenty minutes; shallow gasps of air accompanied quiet moans. I was terrified that he would not survive the drive.

Things got worse after we arrived. Jim could barely walk and each step up the steep flight of stairs caused excruciating pain. He collapsed when we got inside and hurt too much to move.

But the next morning, Jim got up and dressed without help. He had no pain and was breathing easily. Either the blood thinners were working or it was a miracle.

“Now I know that you will never take me back to the hospital,” he said.

“I won’t,” I assured him.

“Now I can live,” he stated with conviction.

All that day, he observed how the Shore was better than the hospital: “You don’t see the sun rise over the ocean in the hospital….you don’t see dolphins in the hospital…You don’t get wine with dinner in the hospital.”

We stayed at the Shore for several more days, and each day Jim grew stronger.

When the dolphins swam by on my birthday, Jim said, “There are sixty dolphins singing happy birthday to you.” It was so sweet, and now it is a happy memory.

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Learning from those who serve

I spent Thanksgiving on Okinawa, Japan, visiting a friend who is on a year-long assignment as a social worker with the Marines. This was my first trip to Japan, other than changing planes on the way to and from the Philippines. Like the area I visited in the Philippines, Okinawa has significant U.S. military presence.

My friend is working at Camp Hansen, a Marine base in the middle of Okinawa. On Thanksgiving Day, we served dinner to the Marines at Camp Hansen’s USO, which was a privilege and an honor for me.

The next morning, my friend and I reviewed the previous day. In my family, the post-event review is almost as significant as the event itself. For me, it is through the review process that I can see what really touched me.

We talked about the Marines we spoke with and she filled me in on who the other servers were, including several of her work colleagues, two military chaplains and some volunteers from a local church. I thanked her for the opportunity to serve; the whole experience was a great blessing for me.

Then I said, “I dated an ex-Marine when I was in college.”

“There is no such thing as an ‘ex-Marine’,” she corrected. “Once a Marine, always a Marine.”

“In that case, I dated a Marine when I was in college,” I said.

College was a long time ago, and I had not thought about that Marine for many years. But, being on a Marine base, among hundreds of Marines, it is understandable that he came to mind.

The Marine I had dated had been wounded in Vietnam and had flashbacks and other issues from his time of service.

As I talked about him, I remembered one of the Marines at Thanksgiving dinner the day before who was wearing a t-shirt with four letters on the left chest: PTSD—post-traumatic stress disorder. The back of the shirt had a message about PTSD awareness.

My first reaction when I saw that t-shirt was that it took courage to wear it; wearing that shirt was making a statement about a reality for many people who have been to war. I was impressed. I don’t think that we have always done a good job of helping returning service personnel heal from PTSD.

Acknowledging PTSD is admitting that war does not end when the troops leave the battlefield but can haunt military personnel long after the war—like the Marine I had dated.

On retreat a few years ago, my retreat director suggested that memories often bring more than just the memory itself, but also a new insight or invitation. This memory reminded me of Vietnam vets and my fears of getting too close to someone who was adjusting to life after war.

Perhaps the invitation in this memory is for me to be more compassionate to people’s back stories and not let my fears get in the way of connecting and caring.






National Novel Writing Month

“It is very difficult to portray a writer because so much of writing happens inside one’s head,” the playwright reflected when asked about the screenplay he had written about an author.

I related to what he said because I feel like I am always writing, except it is in my head. And I have been writing in my head for as long as I can remember. I became more aware of this when I heard a shout-out on the radio for essays on forgiveness.

A story had been going round and round in my mind for many years. When I finally sat down at the computer, the actual writing took about a half hour. But the process of writing had taken years.

Now, I am writing a novel as part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I don’t know the true origin of this nonprofit, but I imagine someone got tired of hearing people say, “I am going to write a novel” but never doing it. So this person said, “enough!” and decided that November would be designated as national novel-writing month.

The goal is to write 50,000 words between November 1 and November 30. Any genre is acceptable and “novel” is determined by the author.

I have been writing (actually putting the words down on paper or in my computer) every day for many years, so I have a sense of the discipline of writing. But, writing 1,667 words every day is more difficult than I imagined.

My novel is based on my life, so I know my material well, and when I come to holes or lulls in the story, I make something up (that is the “novel” part).

We crossed the half-way point yesterday, and I am on track to be finished by November 30, in the sense that I will have written 50,000 words. Editing will be entirely different process.

For as long as I can remember, people have told me, “You should write a book.” I never thought my life was interesting enough for a book, and it may not be. But, the act of writing it down, of getting the words out of my head and into the computer (and eventually printed on paper) has been a great gift to me. I can see how blessed I have been by opportunities ranging from working at the FBI to living with Mennonites. I look back and see how God was at work in me and in my life.

Today is the feast of St. Gertrude the Great, a mystic who lived from 1256-1301. She wrote, “God, my God, because you are mine, I lack nothing.”

I write, “God, my God, because I am yours, I lack nothing.” I have been richly blessed and am grateful for my life—and the opportunity to write about it.




Packing and Unpacking

I am still settling into my new house and unpacking—seemingly endless boxes—and figuring out what I can let go of, what to keep and where to put things. I have held onto lots of things through the years, including some very random mementos.

Some things have brought back surprising memories as I unpacked them:

My yearbook from Grant Junior High, which reminded me of my ninth-grade English teacher, Mrs. Weng, the teacher who had the greatest impact on my life. I wish I could find her to tell her how grateful I am.

A thank-you note from my niece Kristi when she was four or five (actually, her mother wrote it and Kristi signed it), thanking me for sewing her Halloween costume, which I don’t even remember. Kristi now has a four-year-old daughter.

The hand-embroidered doilies I got from Iwona, a Polish girl I lived with at l’Arche Calgary in 1990. Who could have known then that I would visit Poland nineteen years later?

So many pictures—some in albums and some in shoe boxes—going back to my parents’ dating days.

Cards and letters spanning more than fifty years, including post cards from a girl who lived four houses away from me—we were probably in third grade when she sent these post cards while on vacation at her cottage.

And love letters from a guy I met on a trip to upstate New York shortly after college. It was the summer of the Seneca Women’s Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice. I went to support a college friend, and I met Ross. He was such a romantic, and his letters are beautiful.

I know that most of my things have little or no intrinsic value, but right now, in this difficult time of transition, they have great value to me. While I am feeling disconnected, they anchor me to myself, offering me connections to my life and a sense of my personal history. I am deeply grateful for them.