Tag Archive | obstacles

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

    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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    Quiet Leadership

    photo by Taline Manassian

    photo by Taline Manassian

    We had a day of silence while at Aldermarsh for the PeerSpirit writing workshop. I didn’t know how that would work for me. Life is loud. We are always talking, sometimes all at once, pushing our points of view. But this is a space where cell phones don’t work.

    Rather than stare at the wall or cheat by getting on the internet, I took a walk.

    In my work at the Incarnate Word Foundation, we are called to the table many times. Board meetings, committee discussions, agency collaboratives and community workgroups–all of these require leadership, and there as many leadership styles as there are leaders. But should leadership be equated with whomever has the loudest voice, or who convened the meeting, or who has the most community standing?

    Sometimes the most effective leadership style is quiet.

    Sr. Mary was the foundation’s Board chair for nine years. During that time she practiced what I have come to think of as quiet leadership. The fundamentals are simple:

    Listen to the ideas of others before you speak.

    Don’t become consumed with anxiety about getting your idea out on the table.

    Focus on making the outcome one that incorporates the best thinking of the group rather than furthering a personal agenda.

    Stay calm and respect the integrity of each person involved in the discussion.

    Speak quietly.

    When I began walking the woods at Aldermarsh, I started in aimless silence only to become aware of murmuring sounds at every turn, leading me down the path and through the labyrinth.

    Photo by Taline Manassian

    Photo by Taline Manassian

    The Red Barn

    The red barn, Winfield, MO

    The red barn, Winfield, MO

    A few weeks ago I went with Michael to pick up a package of bees near Winfield. One of my hives had died out after an unexpected snowstorm in March. They were my favorite hive–Carniolan bees, gentler than the Minnesota hygienic Italian bees I usually raise. It was a dreary day with heavy skies and the fields were newly planted with little growth amid the standing water on the Missouri River flood plains.

    I was not in the best frame of mind and wished I could have put the whole trip off but the bees could only stay in their temporary package so long before they would die off. As we rounded the bend, I saw it–a weathered red barn in a field of yellow wildflowers. How could I give in to the gloomy day with this reminder that the world was a good and beautiful place?

    A few weeks later I was on the radio talking about a new youth summer jobs program the foundation had initiated. These programs are common in other large cities but there was currently no organized widespread effort in our community.

    It had been a long haul. We had had some success and two hundred young people would have jobs. Donors had come forward from the business and philanthropic sectors and we had garnered support from the local government as well.

    It had not, however, been easy. The foundation’s motivation was grounded in social justice. The rationale for business’s support related to workforce development and economic growth. The governmental involvement meant balancing political realities. Fundamentally, everyone wanted the project to succeed, but the behind-the-scenes work to develop the actual program, create realistic expectations and manage relationships took an inordinate amount of time and energy. Being on the radio was a piece of cake compared to all of that. I was tired.

    After the radio show a friend texted me and said she had heard the radio program and it was great. And then a colleague sent me an e-mail in which she acknowledged that it must have been tough navigating all of the relationships to bring the program to fruition but that it was worth it; she thanked me.

    A red barn in a field of yellow flowers.

    Relationships: Begin as You Mean to Go on

    Blue/Purple Vase, Carondelet Pottery

    Blue/Purple Vase, Carondelet Pottery

    When I am throwing at the wheel, typically I begin as I mean to go on. As I center the clay, I am intentional. For a vase, I keep my left hand firm against the side to maintain a centered clay column; I push down with my right fist and strong arm the clay into a flat disc to create what will become a plate. I begin as I mean to go on.

    Recently, a friend was worried about how she would work with a new colleague. She liked this person but, as an introvert, she was worried about being overshadowed. Would she be second fiddle, not because he put her in that place but because she placed herself there?

    I told her quite simply,

    Begin as you mean to go on.

    At meetings, continue to share your perspective and not hold back because your new colleague is the extrovert. Continue doing your part of the work, and don’t carry his water.

    It may appear to you that he doesn’t have all of his ducks in a row for a meeting, but don’t begin by assuming he is unprepared and then put yourself in a support role to provide what you think he needs to make his presentation a success. He is a professional and his way of preparing might be quite different, but still successful. And if turns out you were right and he wasn’t as prepared as he should have been, he will learn to do a better job the next time.

    You need to establish an equitable relationship from the start and not place yourself in a subordinate role. You are, in fact, colleagues. If you represent yourself as support staff, that is how he will treat you.


    When I throw that vase, I establish the parameters from the outset. Because if it starts as a plate, it is almost impossible to force the clay back into a cylinder and pull it up into a vase. The clay particles have been pushed in a different direction. Even if you do force it back, the results are usually not happy.

    Begin as you mean to go on.