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Moth Orchids: Broken Relationships Bloom Again

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My windowsill is filled with orchids. The challenge is getting them to bloom. In February I watch for the first signs, small green stubs that grow into willowy stalks with nodding lanterns that will unfold into the aptly named moth orchids.

I’m not organized enough to have proper labels on the pots and in late winter I wait for the buds to reveal the secret of their colors. Green velvet speckled with carmine, purple merlots, yellow-throated white ermine. All are eagerly anticipated.

But then a stalk was broken. The buds had barely unfurled. Someone had carelessly brushed it aside. I hadn’t noticed the stem hanging by a thread and I debated–should I snip it off or leave it dangling?  In either case the buds were withering. The next day I clipped it off, put it in a vase, and threw it away a few days later.

Our relationships can be broken. We can be careless and may not notice the brokenness until the relationship withers. The relationship is discarded.

Not too long ago, I received a call from someone I hadn’t heard from in many years. Our relationship had ended on a sour note a decade before. She had taken a chance in calling me and I took a chance in meeting her for coffee. We talked about our families, our art work, what new paths we were taking. A fresh start.

What opportunities come my way to rekindle a relationship?

How do I take a risk and begin anew?

Am I missing opportunities to reconnect?

Several months later when the orchids are dormant, a new shoot appears. The damaged orchid flowers prolifically, with perfect flowers of Naples yellow dancing on the window ledge.

When nurtured, broken relationships can bloom again.

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Astronomically High Waves: Reconnecting with the Soul

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This past week I spent at the beach reconnecting with my soul. The world had worn me down with unrelenting bad news. Inexorable waves of violence, bigotry, broken lives and relationships slapped me, rushing out from the screen; social media spawned the undertow.

One evening I stood on the quiet balcony looking out into the darkness. My daughter had told me the waves were astronomically high because the moon was so close.

All I knew was that I was spent.

I searched for the moon but saw only the faintest blush behind the clouds. The ocean was pitch dark and blended with the sky, only known to me by a deep rumbling cascade and faint whitecaps.

Overwhelmed, it was time to reconnect with my soul. Time to be guided by what I held to be most true.

  • What must guide me is the fundamental dignity of each person. The certainty that within us all is a spark of the divine. A spark that may flicker, be hidden, but remains deep within each of us.
  • What must inform me is the knowledge others possess as well as what I might know. An openness that wisdom can come surprising ways.
  • What I must recognize and accept is brokenness; the failings, pain and weakness of all of us. That the path to healing runs through each person I meet. That I cannot do it alone. It is through relationships that we are made whole.
  • What must motivate my actions is open compassion. Compassion in each conversation. Compassion without judgment.

A clear full moon broke through the clouds, scattering a path of diamond drops across the waves.   When faced with astronomically high waves, reconnect with the soul.

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Simple Gifts

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It had been a challenging week. An in-box boiling over with hundreds of messages. Frustrating meetings followed by meetings about the frustrating meetings. Everyone was rushing to tie up all of the loose ends before the holiday break and the the internal alarm clock rang–time to close the office a few hours early so that everyone could step back and unwind for Easter.

As I stepped off of the elevator after lunch to pick up a few things I was still multi-tasking, juggling loose papers from the car, an open purse, a trailing shawl and a ringing cell phone. It was my friend, Elizabeth. I was struggling down the dimly lit corridor toward the office while answering the phone, when I saw someone standing at the end of the hall outside the office–it was Elizabeth calling to see where everyone was.

She had taken time from her busy day to stop by the office with a gift, a beautiful basket of yarn that she had purchased at a fundraising event in Minneapolis. The rich garnet and woodsy teal mohair skeins were a soft nest for carefree turquoise cotton. And in the middle of all of it, sleek number ten wooden needles with a rainbow grain. I was already thinking of the relaxing knitting that was ahead.

My gratitude was not only for the simple gift, but for the joy of being remembered by a good friend.

  • How can I be a gift to my friends?
  • Can I take time to make a small gesture that can turn around a day for someone who is juggling work and family responsibilities?
  • What really matters in the long run?

A simple gift.

I thought the day could not be better until I sorted through the mail at home. Amidst the fliers for gutter repair and the electric bill I found a colorful card from my friend, Pat, and a small packet of Mexican sunflower seeds. We had each grown them the previous year in our gardens and she had taken time to track down the seeds and send those to me.

A simple gift that brought back memories of swallowtail butterflies and the promise of lazy summer days. No multi-tasking allowed.

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Blessed

The Bellerive bees in winter

The Bellerive bees in winter

Midwest winters can be hard. The last bit of green obliterated by the snow. The beauty of snow riddled with soot deteriorating into slush. Fierce nights. As I glance out window as temperatures hover around zero I see the bee hives buried in snow. All during the fall I had chastised myself for not getting around to taking the honey from the hives and now I hope that might be a saving grace.

The weather mirrors my life as I find myself in the role of caregiver while a family member recovers from surgery. Even though I know this will pass, patience is increasingly in short supply. Daylight is limited, but it is time to take a moment to see.

Sometimes I need only stand wherever I am to be blessed.
Mary Oliver

  • A handwritten letter arrives, bringing me back to an afternoon spent sitting with a nun in San Antonio who has generously become my friend even tough her days are precious, whisps of words carrying her strong spirit.
  • A blue heron flies over a lake at my friend’s new country house.
  • My daughters call, one during the day to invite me to a spontaneous lunch; the other near midnight just because she knows I miss her so.
  • Sadie gives me a sleepy Labrador wag from the sofa.  I dig my fingers into her rough coat and tell her the story of the first dog who comes to the first fire.
  • I pick up my knitting.

    Sometimes I need only stand wherever I am to be blessed.

    The next day the weather breaks and temperatures skyrocket to the 50s. And the Bellerive bees miraculously appear flying in and out of the hive.

    The Lake, Pat Thibodeau

    The Lake, Pat Thibodeau

    Knitting in the Round: Casting on a Circle of Story

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    Usually when I knit I use circular needles. Lighter than straight needles, circulars are flexible, nimble quick to the touch. Circulars make it possible to knit in the round.

    Recently, Mia, a young dynamic young social worker with sparkling dark eyes, asked me to teach her to knit. We had met on a social justice retreat where I was knitting socks on two circular needles. We briefly chatted over a lunch of mung bean soup and warm multi-grain bread, and I was pleasantly surprised when she e-mailed me several weeks later about knitting.

    We met for coffee and pulled out the needles. I started to cast on, knit one pearl two, create ribbing. Mia talked about her commitment to counseling women who struggle with poverty and abuse. I smiled at her excitement on becoming an advocate for justice for these women. As she reflected on what had lead her to that path, I saw her childhood in the crisp golden autumn of a Michigan upbringing.

    The conversation turned to my daughters so close to her in age and to Aunt Margie who gave me my first set of needles decades ago–to my story.

    Finally, we talked about faith.

    • What keeps the spark of the divine within us alight despite the failings of religious structures?
    • How do you get past rhetoric and dogma to hold what you know is true?
    • Where does integrity lie?

    At the end of the morning I wasn’t surprised that we had only completed a few rows. Instead we has created a circle of story.

    Next time, perhaps we will knit socks.

    How Are You in Your Heart?

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    Several years ago, I traveled to Chiapas, Mexico, with the Incarnate Word Sisters. We touched down in Villahermosa in inky darkness and traveled to the heart of the city where bars were doing a brisk and noisy business. The next morning we traveled by bus up through the clear air of the mountains in Chiapas.

    Our home base was a coffee plantation owned by the Ch’ol Indians. The sisters have been partners in Nich Klum Cafe for decades, working with the tribe to build an international coffee company. During that week I learned the mechanics about growing organic coffee–from seedlings in the greenhouse to beans forming in the fields. That the best coffee was shipped to Europe, the second-best to the United States, and the rest was left for Mexico.

    Gregorio was my guide. He spoke four languages–I speak one. At the start of each day his greeting translated not as “How are you?” but as “How are you in your heart?”

    When people ask “How are you?” the expected answer is “fine” or at the very least “okay.” It is a superficial question.

    “How are you in your heart?” That is a deeper question that places us in relationship.

    Although I don’t say, “How are you in your heart?” I try to keep that question in my mind and read between the lines as I go through the day.

    • How is my friend who lost her husband six months ago really doing?
    • How is my relative who is recuperating from a broken hip at home alone really coping?
    • How is a colleague who has a new supervisor really adjusting?

    And I take an extra few minutes to listen. To see the day through their eyes. To give encouragement, a kind word or an unexpected note in the mail. To be present.

    How are you in your heart?

    I hear their heart and I hear mine.

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    Prayer Flags and the Four Winds: What Is God Telling Us?

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    My friend Pat just sent me a set of her prayer flags. Bright symbols of faith and aspiration are tossed by the four winds in my garden. Each morning the bright colors, symbols and messages catch my attention. They are beautiful and it is easy to not notice the wind itself.

    At the foundation where I work, I often go next door to Sr. Mary Margaret’s office to debrief after a meeting or a phone call. She possesses a tart realism leavened with affection and wisdom; she is an excellent colleague and mentor. Her German practicality is the ideal counterpoint to my Irish intuition.

    There are times when I’ll tell her about a particularly frustrating meeting. Or I may have encountered what appears to be an unjust situation that hurts those who are powerless. Perhaps it is a project that is going awry, a set of policies that actually mitigate against accomplishing the goal.

    When I voice my aggravation and annoyance, Mary Margaret’s response is not to commiserate, but to say, “What is God telling you?”

    My first thought is usually, ‘I don’t really care what God is telling me. What I care about is how bad or wrong this is and how frustrated I am.’

    But later I return to Mary Margaret’s question: What is God telling me using this situation?

    And that question leads to others.

    What is the underlying message that I am missing when I focus on situation itself rather than on what we are working toward?

    How can I stay attuned to what actually needs to be accomplished rather than get mired in negativity?

    What is the other perspective that is present and what is the good to be found in that perspective?

    Where can we turn to move past the obstacle and build consensus around a solution?

    How do I emphasize the inherent value of human relationships rather than get bogged down in being political?

    I take time to feel the wind. Because while it is important to see the prayer flags, it is the wind that makes them flutter and dance.

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    What’s Important Is How We Do It

    Surprise Lilies in the Parkway

    While I was walking this morning, I was reflecting on a quotation from the woman who founded the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

    With God, what we do is less important than how we do it.
    Blessed Theresa of Jesus Gerhardinger, SSND

    She said those words a century ago, but they speak to my heart today.

    At the Incarnate Word Foundation I see many agencies working to serve those in need. Those of us in the funding world pressure them to show measurable outcomes. We want to know that they are effective in delivering services, that they measure their progress toward goals in quantifiable ways, that they are efficient in their use of resources. In response, agency leaders develop elaborate logic models and hire consultants to create service delivery systems.

    And while good stewardship is necessary and important, the danger in that is an over-emphasis on what is being done rather than how it is being done.

    Are we grounding what we do in compassion, love and respect?

    Are we taking time to listen with our heart?

    Are we walking with them on their journey?

    Do we sit and hold a woman’s hand?

    Do we see the spark of the Divine in each person?

    So often we focus on getting things done, on accomplishments and outcomes. While we may reach every benchmark, we can lose the love and humanity that should be present whenever we are with others.

    Because with God, what we do is less important than how we do it.

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    Day Lilies: We Choose How We See the World

    Day Lilies at Carondelet Pottery

    Day Lilies at Carondelet Pottery

    When I am throwing pots at Carondelet Pottery, I usually take a break and sit in the garden. And when I do, I make a choice. I can choose to focus on the weeds that need pulling or the fence that I have been meaning to paint, or I can choose to see day lilies blooming.

    Every day we have times when we choose how we see the world.

    Later that morning as I was emptying the trash at the studio I saw two men fishing for cans in the dumpster. This presented me with several choices.

    I can choose to ignore them.

    I can choose to inform them in no uncertain terms with only a glance, not words, that they shouldn’t be fishing in the dumpster and that they had better not knock trash into the alley.

    Or I can choose to say, “Good morning.”

    Which is what I did. And they responded with “Good morning” as well.

    We had a brief conversation about the beautiful weather, the nice people at the Methodist church a few blocks away, and the price of scrap metal. All three of us made a choice about how we saw each other that morning.

    And it was the beginning of a lovely peaceful day.

    Day Lily, Carondelet Pottery

    Day Lily, Carondelet Pottery

    The Mission Is Within

    photo by Grant Gillard

    photo by Grant Gillard

    The primary nectar flow is in full swing and my bees are single-mindedly going about their work. Some guard the hive, others fetch water from the pond, forage for nectar, alert their comrades to new blooms by dancing on the doorstep. They and their mission are one. The mission is within.

    And I think of Sr. Alice.

    I first met Sr. Alice when she was leading a spirituality and arts center in the congregation’s old dairy barn. Alice is a white-haired wise woman, her features sharp, her eyes kind and laughing. She is a tai chi practitioner, tall and angular, moving effortlessly through the world of spiritual traditions.

    Alice’s white barn housed vibrant art and quiet music where the dairy stalls had been. The soaring beams of the hayloft framed a contemplative sacred space. I loved walking past the tall rosemary bushes into the barn, reflecting upon artists’ visions, listening to Alice as she shared her latest spiritual journey. But then it was gone.

    The sisters’ retirement complex was next door and needed more space. The barn gave way for senior apartments to expand the sisters’ ministry to serve older adults.

    The loss touched my heart. I thought of Alice, the scent of the rosemary and heat bouncing off the Texas sandstone that bordered the barn path, the light coming through the square dairy stall windows. The white barn gave way for a high-rise. I couldn’t imagine how terrible Alice felt about losing that beautiful space.

    A few months later I was in San Antonio on the motherhouse grounds walking behind the retirement center. Suddenly, I saw Alice striding toward me, tall and slender in a red shirt and denim skirt. I hurried toward her and blurted out my concern for her and the loss of the barn.

    She just smiled. Then she said that she was fine.

    The barn was just a place, albeit a beautiful place, but a place all the same. She had been given an office in the retirement center and was carrying out the mission in a new way that she called Chispas, or sparks, for the sparks of the divine that are in each of us.

    Alice explained that the mission is within her. The place is unimportant because she carries the mission within wherever she is. The mission manifests itself in whatever she is doing.

    I have thought about that conversation with Alice many times. So often we get caught up in the need to possess something, whether it be a place, a project, our job or another person. To varying degrees these things are necessary for us, but they do not define us.

    Each of us has a mission.

    The bees currently live in a hive box in my yard, but they could swarm and move to a hollow sycamore tree or rotted building eaves. The bees would construct new comb, rebuild the honey stores.

    We carry the mission within.