Tag Archives: writing


It is not all right with me

I went to San Francisco a few weeks ago for a workshop on grief. One of my intentions was to notice what I notice. Whether I was walking the grounds of the retreat center—hearing birds and seeing flowers, trees and bugs—or sitting in a workshop session, I tried to be present and mindful.mindful-grief-transformationWhen the presenter spoke, I tried to pay attention to the words that caught my attention and the images and memories that came to me. When others shared, I listened attentively and also noted my reactions and feelings—trying to pay attention to what was stirred up inside me.

The whole weekend felt like one continuous prayer where I was trying to be open to God’s invitation to gain insight and freedom. I was there to learn, not only what the workshop had to offer, but also what God was offering to me.

I had brought with me my losses and grief—and also hopes for insight and transformation—and hope does not disappoint (Romans 5:3-5).

It is not all right with me was a prompt I used for one of the workshop’s writing exercises. It was from a list of “protest” prompts which included:

I say it matters


I will not live small

No more

I will not pretend

I survived.

We were instructed to write for ten minutes without stopping, to keep the pen moving and let flow whatever flowed.

In part, I wrote, “It is not all right with me that anyone not take me seriously, that I be ignored or discounted. It is not all right with me that my opinion be dismissed or my beliefs be minimized….It is not all right with me to have the value of my experience doubted or belittled.”

Since returning home, I have read my journal entries from the workshop several times, and this section of my journal keeps catching my attention.

I tried to recall the last time someone did not take me seriously or dismissed me or my beliefs, and I realized that I am the person who does this. I am the queen of “yes, but…” when someone compliments me or asks me to share something. I demur, believing others have much more to offer than I.

I am guilty of discounting my experiences, of dismissing my mindful-grief-transformationopinions and minimizing my beliefs. I am the one who tends to belittle my experience and doubt my own reality.

It was an “aha” moment about complicity in not taking myself seriously. No matter how much affirmation I get, I tend to minimize my experience and accomplishments. It was also a moment for self-compassion, another theme of the workshop.mindful-grief-transformationI pray to be open to the invitations God offers for transformation and self-compassion. I pray to be more trusting in the positive messages from others than the negative messages I tell myself. I pray to lean into God and allow God’s love to fill me. I pray to say, “Yes” without adding the “but.”mindful-grief-transformation








Healing and hope

Recently, I went to San Francisco for a workshop called Entering the Healing Ground: The Sacred Work of Grief. The workshop combined several things I love: poetry, writing, dancing and singing.

It also involved something I don’t particularly like: sharing my personal story with a group.

I am okay with talking about my public self, and I have gotten better at sharing some of my personal story, but there is a whole other layer buried deep inside that I rarely touch and even more rarely share. Dipping into my shadow, admitting my weaknesses and revealing my secrets—ugh.grief-community-ritualThis workshop invited me to dig deep and root around in the darkness where I hide my most private self. It invited me to touch my pain and to allow others to see the real me—not just the strong, independent me, but also the vulnerable me who has been hurt and experienced loss.grief-community-ritualThe facilitator talked about self-compassion, which was exactly the message I needed to hear. I know I need to be tender with my brokenness in order to coax my hidden self into the light.­­­­­

The workshop sessions began with drumming, dancing, singing and poetry. The facilitator talked about community, ritual and grief.

And then we wrote.

Each writing exercise began with a prompt. Over the course of three days, these prompts help me go deep within:

  • I remember
  • It is true
  • It hurt me
  • I survived
  • It is not okay with me
  • I miss

After each ten-minute writing session, we read what we had written to two other participants, and then we were given the opportunity to share with the larger group of twenty-four.grief-community-ritualI usually don’t speak in group settings; I listen and learn from others but rarely take the risk of speaking.

However, I am trying to move against my resistance.

At this workshop, I waited until the last opportunity on Saturday to share with the large group. Then I took a deep breath and read what I had just written prompted by I survived.

My writing was about something from my childhood, something I have only shared with a few close friends. I felt exposed and incredibly vulnerable—ugh.

That evening, I spent some time alone. I knitted, prayed and took a walk around the retreat center grounds. That is my pattern—to withdraw and isolate when I feel vulnerable.

There I was at a workshop focused on accepting our brokenness and grief, forming community, trusting—and when I most needed to be with others, I withdrew.

The next morning, I returned to the group a bit more self-aware, open and ready to dig a bit deeper. Writing on Sunday morning to the prompt I miss revealed an unhealed grief, and it was cathartic to release my sadness through tears.

grief-community-ritualThe weekend was a rare opportunity and I felt incredibly blessed to have participated. As we were leaving, another participant said, “A great gift brings great responsibility.”

What will I do with this great gift?



Pins in my journal

Seeking a new knitting pattern, my sister suggested I look on Pinterest. I had signed up for Pinterest several years ago, but found the site overwhelming. Things seem to appear and then disappear for no discernable reason. It was beyond me.

“You have to create boards and then pin things you like on the boards,” my sister counseled. “Otherwise, you may never find them again,” she added. That had certainly been my experience.

So I created a board (called “Knitting”) and began pinning patterns I liked.

Once demystified, I can now visit Pinterest with confidence. The secret is to recognize when something catches my attention—even briefly—and “pin” it to a board.

This method of adding things of interest to Pinterest boards reminds me of praying lectio divina—that prayer method that invites me to notice the words or phrases in Scripture that catch my attention and then to spend some time in prayer with the images and ideas generated by those words. My journal is where I “pin” my Scripture ideas.

I write in my journal every morning, reviewing the previous day and recording thoughts and actions. I also record night dreams and day dreams, and I write whatever catches my attention during my morning prayer. At the beginning of the year, I write plans and goals for the year, and at the end of the year, I re-read my journals from that year. Before meeting with my spiritual director each month, I read what I have written since my last meeting with her.

I interact with my journal frequently. It is much more low-tech than Pinterest, but it is the system that works for me.

It would be easy for me to get hooked on Pinterest. Each click leads to something else of interest and is an invitation to keep exploring and collecting pins.

I think Scripture is like that, too. Each reading invites me to go deeper and collect bits of insight and wisdom. Each reading leads me to a deeper understanding of how to be more loving and forgiving. Spending time in prayer reminds me of God’s love and offers direction for my life.

Yesterday, before I met with my spiritual director, I reviewed my journal for the last month, and noticed a theme of growth. The words of Scripture that caught my attention had to do with watered gardens and gurgling springs (Isaiah 58:11) and cultivating the ground (Luke 13:8). On several occasions, I had written about moving beyond shoulds and oughts and being the person God created me to me—no matter how outrageous she may be.

The words of Scripture encourage me to keep growing, and give me hope that God does really call me His “delight” (Isaiah 62:4). I want to be that person—God’s delight—and keep “pinning” God’s promises in my journal and on my heart.

Outer Manifestation

Every time I shovel snow, which has been quite often this winter, the same phrase pops into my head: the outer manifestation of my interior life.

Some people deal with their grief by creating order and neatening things up; in my grief, I became more scattered.

Last year at about this time, I was preparing to move to Michigan, purging and packing my things, boxes stacked all around the house. Stuff waiting to be packed filled in empty spaces. The house was a mess, but I did not really notice; I was too immersed in my grief.

I was also going to Paris, France, for a long weekend; travel was one way I dealt with my grief.

A friend stopped by to drop off her Paris guidebooks. I invited her in, but she declined and apologized for not having called ahead. She stood at the door, looking shocked or horrified. I did not really understand her look until I closed the door when she left and turned around. Then I saw what she saw—utter chaos. The stacks of boxes, the stuff, the disarray. I broke down in tears.

This, I thought, is the outer manifestation of my interior life. I was a mess.

But the outside world did not see that. Every day, I got up and dressed and went to work. Outwardly, I seemed to be coping. People commented on how well I was doing, considering what I had been through.

But, the reality was undeniable. My life was in shambles. What I hid from the public was in full view inside my house.

I am reminded of all this because of the way I shovel snow. I can’t seem to develop a system. Instead, I move randomly from area to area. It is a reminder that I am not quite finished grieving.

We all grieve in different ways. In addition to travel and moving, last February I started this blog. I was thinking of my “new life” and wanted writing to be part of it. I pledged to post weekly, something I thought would help instill order and discipline into my life. This is my fifty-second posting, a personal victory.

My new life is unfolding slowly and order is returning. In many ways, I feel like my old self again.

Hopefully by next winter, I will have moved far enough beyond my grief that I can shovel snow in some sort of systematic way.

Until then, I will be gentle with myself—and I will keep writing.




Throughout November, as I was working on my novel, people commented on the discipline required to write 50,000 words in one month. I agree. It does take discipline to write an average of 1,667 words every day for thirty days.

Fortunately, discipline appeals to me. Personality-wise, I am someone who is comfortable with things being open-ended, in process, which can be somewhat undisciplined. So, I love things that add structure to my life, that give me a framework for actually finishing something.

When my adult faith journey was just beginning, books on discipline attracted me more than any other spiritual books. Fortunately, lots of spiritual writers—both ancient and modern—are pro-discipline, so it was easy to find writings to satisfy my craving and to affirm that discipline matters.

For as long as I can remember, at least some parts of my life have been quite disciplined. Keeping a journal is a discipline I developed early on and have maintained throughout my life. Attending Mass regularly, even daily for most of my adult life, and going on annual retreats are other disciplines. Eating well and exercising are two more.

Almost twenty years ago, three friends and I started a faith-sharing group, and we each committed to praying an hour a day. Although the group no longer exists, I still set aside that hour every morning and show up for prayer.

I used to run for exercise and then switched to walking. When we got Detroit, I started walking her every morning and every evening. Even though we now have a yard for her to play in and get enough exercise, we still take our walks. Through rain, snow, sleet, heat or cold, we walk. In Philadelphia, we walked through hurricanes. Only thunderstorms keep us inside (although the recent very cold temperatures in Michigan have shortened our walks, and I am getting more exercise by shoveling snow).

Some people, commenting on my disciplines, have said they think discipline would be too restrictive for them, but I find the structures created by my disciplines somehow enable me to be freer. It is one of those paradoxes of life.

Disciplines do require sacrifice. Writing my novel in November meant limiting social activities. Making time for prayer and exercise every morning means I don’t get to sleep in. I have to use vacation time to go on retreat. A healthy diet means limited junk food, etc.

But I don’t mind these sacrifices because I think that practicing discipline has given me the gift of fortitude, and fortitude enabled me to make the commitment to write a 50,000-word novel in thirty days and to complete the task.


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.