September 27, 2008

Old Church Door

This door once graced the entrance to a church many years ago. If you look closely, you'll see the cross. The door has weathered beautifully throughout the years. And the cross still provides the message of love, sacrifice, hope, and sustainability. To me the door is a reminder that there is life beyond the cross. Jesus' message did not stop there; it grew from there. If I open the doors of opportunity that God puts in my path, my life will expand in ways I never dreamed. I must not be afraid to open these doors. Hidden potentials, hope, life, love, and messages from the world wait behind those doors.

September 16, 2008

From Ticks to Anam Cara

Ticks and Friendship. I have a special friend in my life. A mentor, actually. She is forty years older than I am, but the first conversation we shared on a walk one day proved that age is no barrier for a true anam cara, or "soul friend". According to John O'Donohue, in his book Anam Cara, a soul friend is "a person to whom you could reveal the hidden intimacies of your life . . . You [are] joined in an ancient and eternal way." My soul friend mirrors me in many ways. For one, the mirror reflects back to her younger years, when she shared with me struggles of those days regarding issues that I am currently facing. And the mirror also shows a common thread even today, as we both share a love of writing and hiking and collecting treasures of nature. Recently, we shared a very intimate and humbling morning together, and I wondered if it had become too close for comfort. You see, it all started with a longing to transplant some wildflowers . . .

I love spring wildflowers, and so does my friend. She told me her daughter lives in the woods and has a steep hill possibly loaded with flowers we could transplant. We didn't know what we would find, but it sounded like an adventure perfect for us. She met me at our local park, and we headed to her daughter's house, with boxes, plastic tubs, gloves, and shovels in hand. When we got there, I noticed the hill was very steep and wondered how we would carry the filled tubs and boxes back up. I was about to mention that we stay close to the house and not go too far down the hill, but I didn't want to spoil the excitement in her eyes. So we started down the hill and found some dwarf irises. Perfect! Until my friend, in her excitement, tripped over a root, fell, and went rolling down the hill a bit. She hurt her knee, so she stayed on the ground for a while . . . just long enough for ticks to start crawling on her pants. Yuck! I figured we had better stop while we were ahead, take our iris prize, and call it a day. But she insisted we continue down the wooded hill. And we did, and we dug up more plants, and by then we were literally infested with ticks all over our pant legs. Yuck again! I booked it up the hill in less than a minute, only to realize that she could not move that quickly, and we had supplies to carry up. All I kept thinking of was Lyme disease and how quickly I could get the ticks off of me. But I had to help her, so I did. But like a true friend, she instructed me to get inside the house and shower while she gathered the rest of the things. But first, she insisted, I had to completely strip all my clothes off on the side porch, wrap myself in a black trash bag, and then I could go inside. What? Are you kidding me? Naked, outside? Yep. That was the way it had to happen so ticks were not brought inside. And I listened. And I showered. And then, in a very serious tone, she asked me to scan her bare body for ticks. And she did the favor in return for me. So there we were. Two women forty years apart, standing in front of a full-wall mirror, helping one another remove ticks but also realizing the passage of time on a body from your 30s to your 70s. Pretty empowering, for both of us, if you ask me. I know so much about this lady on a soul level. And now, well, lets say there's not much left we don't know about each other. After we were tick-free, I put on her granddaughter's too-tight-for-me clothes and shoes. And sans makeup I got in her car and she drove me to mine. I left all my tainted clothes and shoes behind in the trash bag. I told her she could put them in her daughter's trash can. I wanted nothing to do with them. I also declined the offer to take some plants home, for fear of bringing more ticks home to my garden. It all felt contaminated to me. The whole day did, actually. Until two days later . . .

My friend called me and said that she had washed all my clothes and shoes. She also said that she had set the plants in her garden to rid them of any ticks, and she had them all ready to give me. She had also gone back to her daughter's yard and collected anything we had left there in our frantic mode. All in all she had taken care of me. She let me shower first; she washed my tick-infested clothes; she aired out the plants she knew I wanted and had all of them waiting for me. Obviously I saw this day as a disaster and wanted to erase all signs that it had ever been, whereas she accepted the moment, thought calmly what needed to be done, saved my clothing, and still retained the true meaning of the day: gathering plants. The plants she saved for me were all delicate, spring beauties, and a few moss rocks (my favorite!). But her lesson in following through, looking out for another, and keeping the goal in sight amazed me. A true anam cara!

September 10, 2008

The Sketch Artist

The Sketch Artist. I believe there are no chance meetings. We are constantly interacting with one another in the flow of time and space with purpose. And if we stay awake and present while in the company of another, there is always a message to be given to us, whether that person is aware of giving a message or not. God gets His messages across to us in some pretty unique and unexpected ways. And that's just what "the sketch artist" did for me.

My oldest daughter plays Suzuki violin. And my family was attending a student concert on this particular day. The room we gathered in was small compared to the chapel in which the students usually performed. But all the parents made do with fold-out chairs and close quarters. A few grandparents were there, as usual, but one grandparent kept grabbing my attention. In his hand he held a few sheets of wrinkly scrap paper and was quickly putting pen to this paper like he was on a mission, though it appeared an unorganized mission. I couldn't imagine what he was doing, as all the rest of us were politely sitting in our uncomfortable chairs, smiling at each child who performed a piece, giving our focused attention. But with another glance I noticed that he was sketching each child as he or she played, not just his grandson or granddaughter. He flew through each sketch with focus and flair, yet when a song was finished and it was time for the next student to play, he quickly shifted his focus to create another sketch. I was touched at the way this man chose to connect with this event, at the way he chose to look at each child, even for just a moment, and capture his or her essence as the music came alive.

When the concert was over I made my way over to him, as did a few curious others who had seen him sketching. Turns out he was from Italy and spoke with a heavy accent, but he was confused as to why we were so interested in what he had been doing. Of course, all the parents wanted to see which child was theirs in his collection, and they were expecting him to tear off their child's sketch and hand it over. But they soon backed off when they realized he did not sketch for anyone's personal art wall at home. He simply did it because that is what he does. He is a creator. He allows the flow of others to speak to him, thus turning it into art. He was being obedient to his calling as an artist. He was not after a masterpiece that day. This was just the way he interpreted the concert. Seeing everyone as a unique work of art, capturing a nuance in a child here and there. He was such a calm man, with no pretense. I could see that he flowed with life; he didn't fight against it. He attended this concert as an active participant, if you ask me. While I often feigned interest as another child butchered "Andantino", or another child played what seemed to be an unending piece, I realized that I was not in the moment, not in the flow. Watching him sketch, for really no reason or for anyone's benefit, I understood that I needed to be more willing to let my own creations surface. Even if it is just creating a more patient heart within me or creating a smile for the child who butchered his piece.

I understand that all artists are born to create. But aren't we all artists? Aren't we all creating every minute of each day? Planning our day, creating a comfortable home environment, raising our children, performing our work duties, making a meal, and planting flowers and shrubs and trees in our yard in hopes of a beautiful scene. We also create by imagining a better future and speaking our truth to others. We are also known to create some pretty terrifying and harmful things too. But nevertheless, we are creators . . . artists.

When I have too tight a reign on my creative side. When I'm too rigid and expect perfection, with the all-or-nothing mind-set, I remember the sketch artist and his welcoming flow of creativity.

September 8, 2008

Heart Rock Candy

Heart Rock Candy. How many of you are familiar with the holiday taffy candies with a design in the center (for example, a round taffy candy with a Christmas tree in the middle, or the classic Bull's Eye caramel)? So imagine my delight when a special little rock, resembling these candies, made its way into my hand.

In the early spring I was out for a hike in the woods, not feeling particularly inspired or connected to my spiritual side. And on this day I really wanted to be "connected" (a word I use to describe feeling inner peace at really seeing God's creation around me and being filled with love). I also wanted to feel that I was on the right path in my life, based on some decisions I had recently made. As I hiked, I found myself in a valley, literally. It's a beautiful spot where two hills gently slope upward. I love the way I feel so small when I pass through this valley. I can't help but feel the presence of angels as I walk this dirt trail, and I now know the reason. Just as in life, when I hit valleys (or low points), they become fertile ground for new growth to take place and for God to start some pretty cool work in me. His assigned helpers come instantly to my aide simply upon calling out for help. I just have to remember to ask for the help, ask for the guidance, and ask for the connection. I have always found the best spiritual experiences occur in "the valleys." Usually hindsight has made me appreciate my valley experiences, but I'm trying to keep my eyes open more during my "valley" experiences so I don't miss a beautiful moment of renewal.

So as I walked dirt path and headed up the steep hill, still feeling unconnected and insignificant, I asked for God to speak to me so I could feel His presence--whenever and wherever. My eyes looked down for a moment, and then back up, only to look down again and pick up a pinkish white rock. I was not thinking of finding a heart rock, and this one was not shaped like one anyway. But when I turned it over it unmistakeably had a pinkish-white heart shape set within the rock (see the picture on my page). I was so touched by this "message." I really do believe that God sends us messages in His natural world if we can only take the time to ask and be open to seeing what He places before us. I was not expecting this "heart rock candy" to be His message of the day for me. But that's just it: even though I might have an expectation of how God will speak to me or of what God has planned for me, His plan will always be better and more perfect than mine. His vision will extend farther than my limited imagination will go. And He allows all of us to tap into His creative vision for our own futures; we just have to have open our minds and hearts and remain flexible. I carry this bit of heart rock wisdom with me in my own heart now. And I am amazed at what I am allowed to see when I stop expecting to see something.

On a lighter note: Later that same day I was so excited about my new rock I brought it to my daughter's fourth grade science fair to show my husband. Of course, I lost it in the cafeteria and went crazy trying to find it. The teacher saw my panic and thought I had lost a diamond earring or something. I was embarrassed to admit it was a rock . . . but a rather important one! I had visions of it being thrown in the trash by the janitor or kicked around by kids not knowing its special quality. So I faced the fact that it was only mine for a short time. But sure enough, I found it over by the stage and stuck it in my pocket as if it were a $500 bill. Whew!