Johnny Cash is a friend of mine

Johnny Cash is a friend of mine
Johnny Cash is a friend of mine

After a visit to the Johnny Cash museum in Nashville this week, I’ve been thinking about his legacy. He could have been destroyed early by the glaring love of the public and drug addiction issues. Through the healing grace of God, he lived a full life.

Grace is for everyone. But we have to be willing to accept it.

Was God’s healing a one-time thing for him? No, he sought healing again and again through praying and returning to his bible. He said, “Thank God for redemption, or I wouldn’t be here.”

Every day we can go astray. Every day we need to renew our tight bond to the Lord. Johnny Cash is an inspiring example of that.

What remains

After you’re gone, what will people know about you based on what you leave behind?

This is what I learned about Johnny Cash from my hours in the museum with his letters and things, including:

His name of fame, Johnny Cash, wasn’t the name he was born with or the name he was called by friends. He was born J.R. Cash and added John when he joined the military because they wouldn’t accept initials.

He loved his wife June with his everything.

He had a great sense of humor, as evidenced from his handwritten letters. During one letter to a friend, he announces the birth of his daughter and wrote, “I like her so much that we’re gonna keep her.”

He was faithful, shown by his bibles, gospel songs and Holy Land projects.

He has real compassion for people in prison and the downtrodden. He worked for prison reform.

He credited his fans with his success, revealed through his personal letters to them. He became a star because he worked hard, maybe too hard, doing hundreds of shows in a single year.

He was a good friend and collaborator. Beside the ongoing collaboration with his wife June, he was interested in working with other musicians throughout his career.

He struggled with telling his own story. In the museum, it mentioned that his early memoir Man in Black was considered sanitized, but the later Cash: the Autobiography was more honest.

Enjoy these photos about Johnny Cash from my time in the museum. Be sure to listen to some Johnny Cash today!

 

 

 

 

Blessing

 

 

Tell me your thoughts!

Who is a hero for you? What does Personal Jesus mean to you?

 

Comfortable feet (post-retreat thoughts)

Golden light on the field

Golden light on the fieldThanks to the gracious and loving women at the retreat last weekend, I had a great time. Here are a few reflections on what I learned (or what I was reminded of).

A day and a half is only a taste of relaxation.

Productivity and patience don’t seem like natural partners. I noticed my impatience especially during silent time.

Being productive is a driving force in my daily life. My mind flows like a garden hose turned on full. It’s not something I can turn off. So much pressure! My days are filled with lists of to-dos based on requests from others. During silent time, I decided to color a mandala. I found myself hurrying to get the shapes colored in. I felt the pressure of meeting the goal to get it all filled in more than I took pleasure from the act of putting colored pencil to paper.

I had the same struggle with walking through the labyrinth with a friend. We ended up having rich and fun experience: laughing, crying and opening our hearts to each other. But in the beginning, all I could think was, This thing is going to take forever! I focused on the goal of getting through, instead of being present to the experience. Last time I checked, there are no labyrinth races! But if there were, I could see myself as a competitor. 😀

Spirituality needs to be something I relax into, rather than something I accomplish. No fist-pumping allowed after prayer and Bible devotion with a cry of, “Yes! I won spirituality today!”

I’m going to need more than a day and a half to change my ways—and make some adjustments in my life—to find inner peace. Something to think about as I consider my Lenten practices (Ash Wednesday is next week).

Pray with other people to sustain your faith.

Whether in our daily worship or small group, praying with others buoys me up. There are losses, heartbreaks, betrayals and evil in the world ready to tear us down. Prayer boosts the system. If life is going smoothly, it prepares us for tough times ahead. If life is rough, it soothes us to lay our burdens down. All my worries, my tendency to push myself too hard, my impatience, my stuck places that lack flexibility: I gave these weaknesses to the Lord.

Write with other people to nourish your imagination.

During our creative hours, I offered a mini writing workshop. What a delight to sit in a circle with imaginative women and move our pens across paper today! Taking a solitary act like writing and make it into a spiritual practice in community was powerful and strengthening. I read poetry and used some of my favorite books on writing. Drop me a note if you’re interested in the books I used.

Get comfortable. Start with your feet.

A day spent in slippers is a day well spent. Amen!

Blessing

Gracious God, bless us in the many ways we make community:
whether at a church retreat, Toastmasters meeting or bowling league.
Keep us turning away from our self-centeredness and always
back to you, back to service.
You are not impressed.
We have nothing to prove to you;
you’ve already given us your gifts of peace, forgiveness and
perfect love.

Tell me your thoughts!

Is there a place you push yourself too hard? What are you considering as a change to bring more quiet into your life? Will you do something for Lent?

Why I retreat in silence and slippers

hand with rock and cross

hand with rock and crossI’m counting down the hours until this weekend; I’ll have a sleepover with dozens of women where we worship, eat, do crafts, sing, laugh, pray and have silent time together. I’ll be at the Broadway Women’s Retreat.

Why go on a retreat? It gives me a long view of my life when I remove myself from the daily routine. It’s hard to see a pattern from the inside. Going on a retreat pulls me out of the pattern so I can see it from a distance.

I do much of my life by habit. It’s a good thing because if I had to decide every moment, I wouldn’t have the energy to get through the day. With my thoughtful deliberation style of decision-making, I would probably get stalled out before 7 a.m. Habits are like little times of coasting. They allow me to function.

During retreat, I stop the motion and momentum of my life; I step away from the memorized choreography. It’s like an open-ended time to hear the music again. What was this dance about again?

Preparing myself to retreat

To prepare myself mentally, I’m working on letting go of as much mental clutter as possible. I plan to make a master list of all the obligations I have; get the worries out of my head and onto paper where they look more harmless. I will cut ties with my responsibilities. No household to keep going, no animals with needs, no meals to cook, no deadlines to meet.

I spend a lot of energy on self-improvement and meeting the needs of others. I care about achievement and seek betterment for everyone. In retreat, I put all that aside. This is time where I only seek honesty in my relationship with God. Less self, less responsibilities, more God.

My single focus will be opening my mind to the Spirit. I hope to relax. I normally chug through like a paddle boat, churning up the waters of my feelings. In relaxation, my emotions become clearer. With clearer emotions, I can feel more of the Spirit.

In retreat, I get a hint of how to align my will with God’s will. What are the subtle promptings? What do I need to refresh? What do I need to discard? What parts of the pattern of my life don’t make sense anymore?

As I soak in contemplation for 36 hours, I plan to wear my slippers as much as possible.

Your prayers

I would welcome your prayers that I have a nourishing retreat. If you have something on your heart that you would like me to take into silent prayer this weekend, send me an email, fill out the comment form that will send me an email or let me know in the comments below before the end of day Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014.

Blessing

Lord, you always seek us.
Let us make time to step out of our routines
and step into open-ended time with you,
free of distractions,
free of expectations,
free of responsibilities.
Our noisy world of cares will wait.
Help us breathe and relax.
Let us pray without distraction.

Remind us we were children who
delighted in blowing seeds of a dandelion.
Refresh us with a sense of wonder.
Turn our hearts to seek you as
you always seek us.

Bless the ones who keep things going
while we are on retreat.
Bless the ones too busy to join a retreat.
Bless the ones too scared or too jaded to consider silence.

Bless the ones who confuse your silence with a lack of caring.

We can stop for a day,
a few hour, or a few moments and
find you.
In finding you, we find peace.
May we all live in your peace.

Tell me your thoughts!

Have you ever gone on a retreat? What did you get from it? What kind of retreat would you like to go on? Have you ever tried a little one-hour mini retreat?

Kitchen sink altar

Kitchen sink altar

Kitchen sink altarThere is a wonderful Zen story about a monk—new to the monastery—who asks the master what he should do. The master asks if he’s eaten his rice. The new monk says yes, he has eaten. The master says, “Then wash your bowl.”

It was a story I heard growing up. It’s meant to be meditated on, but a simple lesson from it is to focus on the now and take care of each mess as you make it. What an honorable quest! What an admirable lifestyle!

Then there is me and my reality. Rather than the “dirty a bowl, wash a bowl” style, our family subscribes to the “let the sink collect dirty bowls until it’s overfull.” I love to cook and seem to use as many bowls as they do on cooking shows. My teenage son prefers to get a fresh dish for each bowl of cereal, and he’s been known to go through a box of cereal in a day.

If you do the math on our bowl use, you can see my spiritual aspiration is in conflict with my reality. We bought a new dishwasher this week.

It will free up at least a half-hour a day of washing. We will be glad to have the machine’s help. I hope I still wash by hand once in a while. It does me good.

From mundane to devotional

My hands plunge in the warm, soapy water; I restore the dirty to clean. A mess of dishes becomes a rack of organized utensils. Cups stand proud next to one another. Forks mingle with spoons like a friendly cocktail hour. Plates look like railings on the deck, even and upright.

As I wash, I look at the sill above the sink. It is a three-inch altar. I keep my treasures there. I have a rock that says Love Much from my friend, B., a souvenir from a morning when we watched Who Does She Think She Is, a documentary on women artists. It reminds me to love much and be strong in my art!

Another rock on the sill from a summertime trip with my childhood friend, A., encourages, Shine!

The star of the sill is the aloe plant. My aloe was from a church member, C., who brings in batches of the babies to share with us at church. She was in a small group with Susie, the original grower of the aloe. Although Susie has gone to glory, her bright spirit, her generosity and her plants—Susie’s babies—live on through her friends. The plant now reminds me of friendship and how friendships thrive with close personal care just like plants. My aloe has outgrown its pot. It needs to be split and repotted. I will be able to pass on one of Susie’s babies.

Next to the green aloe stands the red Dala horse. My parents got it for me during their trip to the factory in Sweden. Similar to my live red horse outside the kitchen window, it cheers me up with its pert ears and neat style.

A crystal and a cross hang in the window. My mom always hung crystals in all her kitchens to make rainbows. When the sun shines, we have rainbows the size of thumbnails sprinkled through the kitchen.

A little kitschy—a lot fun—I recently added a little apron to our soap bottle. I’m happy to see that we don’t take our decor too seriously! Each time I use the soap, the well-dressed bottle charms me.

It can be a troubling world with intense pressures, needs from family members and news of shootings. You can make the places you frequent in your home into safe havens. Add reminders of people you love and say blessings for them. With visible reminders of faith, you can feel protected as you face daily tasks.

We can’t change our chores. We will eat and make dirty dishes, sometimes by the dozens! But we can change our space to amuse and support our spirit while we tackle our tasks.

As Brother Lawrence says, “We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”

Blessing

Lord, keep us in small ways: a cozy home
with all the comforts of ordinary days.
Let us remember a safe home
with nourishing meals and hot water
are bigger blessings that we realize.
When we see dirty dishes,
remind us you are with us in our daily chores and repeated tasks.

You reveal what is real in soapy water and kitchen sink meditations.

Tell me your thoughts!

Do you have a place where you already feel peaceful and protected? Where else in your home—maybe the laundry room or a bathroom sinkcould be a place to add reminders to pray or praise God? Which items can you find that would link you to happy memories or positive relationships? What would bring you a smile?

Everyone who leaves a comment will be entered in a drawing to win one of my handmade soap bottle aprons! I will draw on Friday (Jan. 17, 2014) afternoon. Good luck! 😀

***Thanks to everybody who left a comment! I appreciated reading them all. This contest has concluded. I’ve tagged the winner in the comments below!***

Three ways to make poetry a spiritual practice

lenten rose

lenten roseHow has your Lenten season been? As my spiritual practice for Lent this year, I’ve written a free verse poem every day. I approached this practice with a willingness to let it change me.

What have I learned so far? First, commitment counts! I can write when I don’t feel like it. Many evenings, I didn’t feel creative. I could still create because I made the commitment I would.

Second, when I focus on the process—doing and relating, it’s harder to worry about results and effects. These poems were meant to bring me closer to God. I didn’t need to worry about who would think what about them.

Third, a “we” voice lives within me. If you’re familiar with my poetry, you’ll know I’ve been an “I” person in my poems for the past 20+ years. Each time my hand wrote “we,” I wondered where it came from. It’s a nice surprise to write from “we” and not “I”. May it continue past Lent!

Would you like to try something enjoyable and thought-provoking? I invite you to try making poetry as a spiritual practice! You can take as little as five minutes. This is my process.

Read it

I begin with reading Scripture. Before I read, I settle myself and breathe. One of the great problems of our time is our pace of life. I have to slow myself down before I read sacred words. It’s no good skimming!

Use spiritual literature that you find meaningful. It might be your holy book, a poem or a devotion. Meditate and rest in the tiny garden made of wisdom and alphabet letters that seems larger once you are inside it.

Respond to it

After I take in a small amount, I let the words digest. I imagine the scene and inhabit the feelings.

Ready yourself to receive a new understanding.

Ask yourself, What is it like physically? How is the air, the light, the water? What am I experiencing inside the words?

Write it

Then I tip my pen over and let my words pour out.

You might have a critic in your mind who is quick to judge and say, “That’s stupid!” as you write. That’s OK. Say, “Oh well!” right back to the judge and let the words spill onto the page anyway. This is between you and the Holy Spirit. Your inner critic is not part of this particular conversation.

Examples

Here are a couple of examples from my Lenten journey this year. These are unedited, raw words as I wrote them.

February 26, 2013

He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
Psalm 23:2

It was a dusty, long walk. We had so much grit
in our throats, we felt like our throats had turned to
sandpaper and we sanded our own
surfaces when we swallowed.

Our feet had long since stopped hurting.
They’d gone past tired to become
wooden boats we drug over rough dirt,
the road a dry stream bed.

We smelled the heat as much as felt it.
It dried our noses and eyes.
Everything had that overbaked smell and
things fluttered in the hot wind.
When he led us to the green meadow,
we collapsed more than lay down.

We put our heads next to the sparkling stream
as if it were a long love song that
we couldn’t hear enough of.
We listened to it sparkle and flirt
with the shore, playful in its splashing.
It was not a stream in a hurry.
It meandered and strolled.
We drank and drank more.
We smiled again and talked.

March 19, 2013

I have so much to write to you but
I would rather not write with pen and ink; instead
I hope to see you soon and
we will talk together face to face.
Peace to you.
The friends send you their greetings.
Greet the friends there, each by name.
3rd Letter of John 13:15

We were full with words, like an Easter basket
so filled with eggs that
the slightest bump tumbles them out.
We couldn’t wait to be together and laugh in person,
about the misunderstandings,
the unneeded worries,
the overlooked grace.

Final thought

May the hope of Easter live in your heart this week and always!

A blessing St. Francis understood

crazyDo you have a special animal in your life? Whatever kind of person you are: cat, dog, horse or lizard, pets bless our lives.

With the food bills, care needs and short lifespans, a non-animal person might wonder why we give so much to our pets but animal people know how they add liveliness, laughter and warmth to our days.

We learn from these non-human relationships. Practicing kindness to animals teaches us how to be kind to ourselves.

“If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.” ―St. Francis of Assisi (Goodreads)

The human-animal bond brings us wellness, friendship and happiness.

Wellness

Animals keep us healthy. Dogs and horses make us stay active. Whether it’s taking our dogs Mercy and Cookie for a walk around the property or lifting hay bales for the horses, caring for animals keeps me in better physical shape.

They help our psychological health. Research shows that pets help relieve stress. Animals give you someone to focus on other than yourself. During hard times or grieving, the steady presence of a dog or the warm purring of a cat soothes you when few things can.

“It may be a cat, a bird, a ferret, or a guinea pig, but the chances are high that when someone close to you dies, a pet will be there to pick up the slack. Pets devour the loneliness. They give us purpose, responsibility, a reason for getting up in the morning, and a reason to look to the future. They ground us, help us escape the grief, make us laugh, and take full advantage of our weakness by exploiting our furniture, our beds, and our refrigerator. We wouldn’t have it any other way. Pets are our seat belts on the emotional roller coaster of life–they can be trusted, they keep us safe, and they sure do smooth out the ride.” ―Nick Trout (Goodreads via Central Missouri Humane Society)

A friendly face is a great antidote to loneliness. When you come home, you have someone there. They don’t have to check their schedule; they’re always ready to socialize with you!

Dogs excel at reunions. Who doesn’t feel popular returning to a house where a wagging tail awaits you? How would it be if we showed the same level of excitement to our loved ones when they came home, welcoming them at the door with hugs? A feeling of belonging gives us well-being.

Friendship

Bu at the pondSome animal friendships are closer than others. My dog, Bu (Sula Bula), was independent in her twilight years. She would take herself down to the pond for a swim and come back for dinner. The warm water must have felt good on her old bones. After dinner, she’d head off for bed.

We decided to adopt a second dog, Mercy, to keep Bu company. I was amazed at the loyalty of our new white spotted dog. Mercy stayed by my side, following me from room to room.

After Bu died, we adopted Cookie. She makes Mercy seem reserved. Next to me is not enough. Cookie’s place is on me. She launches herself with 15 pounds of pure Chihuahua power into my lap whether I’m ready or not.

This morning she got a splash of tea on her head because I wasn’t expecting her. She practices the philosophy of, “Leap toward the lap!” as opposed to “Look before your leap.”

Where people can hold back and worry about looking foolish, she leaps and loves without hesitation.

No matter what I’m doing, Cookie is there. She plays the roles of laundry assistant, barn help and crochet project supervisor. She outdoes herself in the kitchen while on dropped bacon pickup duty; I’ve never seen such focus and concentration. Her closeness can be cloying but for the most part I love having her constant companionship.

We talk to our friends so that means we talk to our pets. Do you talk to your pet? You’re not alone. A study showed that 97 percent of people do (Pets: Good for your health). St. Francis was known to preach to animals. (St. Francis Preaches to the Birds)

Want more interaction with your pet? Make an effort to spend time with your fuzzy friend. Play string chase with a kitty or relax in a sunbath next to the dog. Often, our animals are the ones seeking us out. It does us good to slow down and give affection.

Happiness

The best pet is the one whose face you want to see every morning and every evening. I’m happiest sitting outside where I watch contended horses graze, a dog at my feet and another on my lap. I find the sound of the horses’ chewing and the smell of fresh grass peaceful.

“Where there is peace and meditation, there is neither anxiety nor doubt.” -St. Francis of Assisi (Wikiquote)

It’s a good life. Pets make it even better. Enjoy this video of my animals and others I know and love.

Is there a special animal in your heart? Tell me about him or her in the comments!

Doing it badly

My first scarf in all its glory
My first scarf in all its glory

What would you like to try but you hesitate because you think you would do it badly?

Why do we feel if we can’t do something well, we shouldn’t do it at all?

Something happens to us between being kids and adults where our inner critic overtakes our sense of curiosity. We put looking good before having an adventure.

I’m here to say it’s worth looking foolish to do what you haven’t done before. Listen to the little thoughts.

Be a beginner. You don’t have to demand a full run at the start. Let yourself stumble.

Do a simple thing with love. That will be enough.

Little thoughts

After my mom died in 2009 from lung cancer, I wanted to honor her during her birthday month in 2010. One Saturday evening I was walking through Walmart and the thought came to me that I should learn to knit. Do you know those little thoughts—quiet, unexpected and easy to overlook—that guide you? It was one of those.

But that little thought grew in strength as I walked to the craft aisle. I chose a book called I Taught Myself Knitting that came with needles in the package. I picked out some teal yarn.

I had always said that I could never be a knitter because I imagined the arthritis in my hands would give me too much trouble. I wasn’t drawn to yarn but on that day, I dared to try it despite my expectation it would hurt.

My mom's knitting
My mom’s knitting

I felt happy as I finished my shopping. It seemed the perfect way to honor my mom by taking a month to learn the skill that brought her joy, calmness and human interaction. She was an impressive knitter, fast and able to accomplish complicated projects including a queen-size afghan with cables and ivy she made for my wedding.

The next day, we went to church. Before the service, I sat in the fellowship hall working on the new scarf project I had started the evening before.

Once the service started, my friend Pat stood up and talked about the spiritual nature of her knitting. I hadn’t known she was a knitter. She showed pieces of her work to the congregation and said the verse from Psalm 139, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”

It felt like God talking to me.

Moved to learn knitting on Saturday evening, I heard about knitting as a practice to bring you closer to the divine Sunday morning. My family remarked on the incredible nature of the occurrence.

Amazed and inspired, I went home and stumbled my way along the scarf. I added stitches, dropped stiches and was altogether mystified by the process of looping the yarn into a warm length of fabric. I kept going. How?

Our steps are made firm by the Lord, when he delights in our way; although we stumble, we shall not fall headlong, for the Lord holds us by the hand. Psalm 37:23-24

I finished my first scarf. Her birthday month was close to ending but I decided to try a prayer shawl. I prayed as I knitted.

I completed the first prayer shawl and made more: shawls, scarves, ponchos and sweaters.

After my first five months of knitting, I realized I’d been knitting the wrong way! I’d been doing twisted stitches the whole time. I laughed and kept going.

Lives looped together

My first prayer shawl done with twisted stitches
My first prayer shawl done with twisted stitches

My friends encourage me. They notice my work and appreciate my effort. Is my work good? Not really. Are my friends kind? Yes, beyond measure.

The quality doesn’t matter. It’s the process. There is purpose in trying and in doing. There is value in remembering those we love and trying to be like them.

Doing what my mom did brings me a deeper understanding of her. I forgive and appreciate her as I never did before.

This December will mark three years of working with yarn. I make simple things. I make gifts. As I make them, I pray that the wearer will be happy and at peace. I try to put a hug in the yarn as I work.

I’m messy. My pieces are often coarse and basic but it’s worth it to make the loops.

I let the loops connect to one another. One loop through the next loop, I pull them into a group. I link the circles again and again, building the piece as I go. At the end, all the stitches are joined together. Just like us. Just like people.

God bless you today as that little thought occurs to you and you find your next adventure.