Author Archives: lisawritefromtheheart

Essential Bits

It’s happened to all of us. In conversation, someone makes a seemingly unimportant comment that suddenly, for us in that moment, becomes essentially important.

This happened to me recently and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. The comment came at the tail-end of a session in a writer’s workshop that I was so fortunate to have attended in the south of France. One of the participants, a birder, mentioned her deep desire to travel with again her husband to Southeast Asia, in search of Bowerbirds.

“Bowerbirds?” I asked; having never heard of them.

She explained that there are eight types of Bowerbirds in the world; named for the colorful ‘bachelor pad’ nests – bowers — built by the males, to attract their mates. There is one species in particular, she described, that gathers only blue-colored items to add to its bower-weaving of twigs.

I had lived my life quite well, thank you very much, without ever hearing of or seeing a bowerbird before that day. Yet, something in her comment about the bits of blue stirred the edge of my soul, leaving me with a deep yearning to learn more.

Off we went to write for the afternoon. Trying to clear my head, and find inspiration for our writing assignment, I tried to write a few fledgling sentences, But I just couldn’t get my mind off of bowerbirds. Deciding to stop my self-imposed resistance, I soon found myself in my web browser, devouring myriad photos and articles; each tidbit piquing my interest to learn more. I even came across a link to a PBS Nature program entitled, “Bower Bird Blues.” “For God’s sake,” I thought, “does the whole world know about bowerbirds?” An avid nature program consumer, I wondered how I missed this. And I wondered why, suddenly, it seemed so urgently-essential for me to learn more about this species of bird.

In one particular photo, I marveled at the diversity of blue items had been woven into the nest of a male satin bowerbird. A scrap of fabric. A bottle cap. A blue berry. Even a piece of blue shell. Some items from nature. Others, man-made. Again, my soul stirred.

Still feeling unsettled, I decided to go outside to the terrace of the chateau where we were staying. As I gazed at the blue of the sky and of the sea, like camera lens being moved into focus, I slowly began to understand my need to know more about the blue gatherings of the bowerbird.

When I arrived in France for the workshop, all but one of the women was a complete stranger to me. As our week unfolded, the diversity of our group was apparent. We were eight very different women, with different life experiences, living in different cities, with different life styles. Yet, from each person, in the opening of themselves through our writing exercises and conversation, something essential was shared from their heart with mine that I didn’t realize I needed. Until then.

From one came the inspiration and courage to try new experiences. From another, a witness to the transformative power of a deeply immersive experience. Still another, finding humor in unexpected places. And from yet another, the encouragement to dream, after the age of fifty. And so on.

And there is was, in metaphor of blue fabric, bottle cap, berry and shell – a unique gift from each woman, as essential for my well-being as the blue of the sky and sea before me. Such potent reminders of the power of human connection and of the essential necessity of community.

Now, ten days later, and thousands of miles from that idyllic place, like the bowerbird, I find myself remembering eight special women, and gratefully weaving their essential and unique gifts, so generously shared, into the ever-changing bower that is my own life.

I See You!

In his Book of Awakening, author Mark Nepo shares a beautiful, centuries-old custom of African Bushmen. When a person becomes aware of the presence of another, she or he exclaims, “I See You!” and the other replies, “I am Here!”

Today’s word for reflection is: SEE.

On the surface this seems to be a very simple greeting. Until you really consider it.

We’ve all been in the presence of someone who may be looking at us, but who does not really see us — whether in our pain or in our joy. And, we’ve all also taken up physical space somewhere without fully being present.

Think of the last time that someone was completely present for you; listening deeply to what you were saying. Or, when, during a phone conversation or an email, someone utterly validated the words you expressed. Honored them. Took them in. Think of that that made you feel.

What an opportunity we have! To beautifully enhance the life of another by fully seeing them.

Nepo ends this devotional with these oh-so-wise words:

“As far back as we can remember, people of the oldest tribes, unencumbered by civilization, have been rejoicing in being on earth together. Not only can we do this for each other, it is essential. For as stars need open space to be seen, as waves need shore to crest, as dew needs grass to soak into, our vitality depends on how we exclaim and rejoice, “I See You!” and “I am Here!”

Today, I am encouraged and challenged to see, completely, the people and things around me; and in so doing, enhance their ability to fully inhabit the truth of their lives.

I SEE You!

The Red Bridge

In the early days after my husband, Randy, died, I found myself checking a status box on a form, to indicate my marital status. There, for the first time since it happened, I saw the dreaded word: Widow. 

My reaction to the word was swift and visceral. It jarred me to my core. I felt the stab of the pointy “W’s” on either end, and the huge expanse of emptiness in its gaping holes in the “d” and the “o” in the middle. Widow? My head was spinning. What?! I am now a widow??

Today, I was going through the journal I’ve been keeping with some of my notes and scribblings that will someday be a book about my loss and journey in grief. At the end of the page with my most recent notes was the word, “Widow,” followed by the word, “Window.” I honestly don’t even remember writing this.

And I saw that all that differentiates these words from each other is the letter “n.”

As I considered this, an image of a red bridge immediately came to mind. Last week, when a dear friend who lives in another city came to visit, we went to a Japanese garden that is near my home. In the many years I’ve lived here, for one reason or another, I have never been there, but have always wanted to see it. The garden did not disappoint; resplendent in its early-spring bloomings; offering a place of beauty and tranquility in the middle of a not-so-safe neighborhood.

As in many Japanese (and Chinese) gardens, there were lovely ponds; two of which with arching red bridges carrying us from one side to the other. The first of the bridges was quite short, but also quite curved — so much so that, on the rainy day of our visit, I held on to its railings as I crossed it, so as not to slip on the steep arch.

The red bridge was shaped as an arch — like the one in the letter, “n.”

Widow. Window. The “n” smack-dab in the middle.

A red bridge in a Japanese garden is called a Guzei and is laden with symbolism. Bridges, in Japanese gardens, represent a crossing from the physical to the spiritual, and offer a way of transformation toward a place of wisdom.

The color red also represents a notion of the sacred, as well as wisdom and transformation.

A red bridge, then, offers a double-dose of these concepts; entwined with the Zen concept of preserving the life force, rejecting attachment to the physical and coming to a place of true discernment. A double-dose of positive growth and spiritual transformation.

In my journey as a widow, I realized, I’ve crossed many metaphorical red bridges; offering a window, an opening, into something far beyond the small borders of the box I checked on that form, indicating my new marital status.

A new identity, yes. And maybe in the process of crossing, I had to hang on for dear life. But in that often-steep and foreboding transformation, what I have ever-so-slowly discovered, is an opening to more of the garden that was, and is, my life. And, there is beauty on the other side.

I marvel at how God moves and works in our lives. It is no coincidence that we crossed that red, “n-shaped” bridge just days before I revisited my journal notes about the word, Widow.

Oh! The kind and gentle way that God safely carries us to the next beautiful vista of our own life when we can, even in pain and uncertainty, trust the process of transformation.

A Daisy a Day, Dear

There is a sacred place in, of all places, Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin. In a park there, on a memorial bench dedicated to his late wife, an elderly gentleman leaves one daisy every day in honor of her favorite song was:

“I’ll give you a daisy a day, dear

I’ll give you a daisy a day

I’ll love you until

The rivers run still

And the four winds we know blow away.”

With the deep snow and frigid temperatures of this winter, however, his daily practice was made very difficult.

Until one day.

Two strangers who worked for the local Parks Department noticed tracks in the deep snow leading to a bench bearing a plaque with a woman’s name and photo. In each of the holes drilled on the metal bench, there was a single daisy. This was clearly someone’s sacred place. For these employees, shoveling paths through the park is not part of their job in the dead of winter. But they decided to make an exception in this case. So, on their own time, every day, they shoveled a path from the parking lot to that bench so that the man could have easier access to his wife’s memorial bench.

When the man saw the cleared path, he reported that his knees nearly bucked in shock at this act of kindness from strangers.

Today’s Lenten reflection word is PLACE.

Where is your sacred place? And what are the obstacles, physical or spiritual, that make it difficult for you to reach it?

Today, I wonder, how can I identify and remove my own obstacles, to enter a sacred space in myself?

And, even more importantly, like those Parks Department employees, how can I open my self to observe the metaphorical footsteps in the deep snow that clue me in to how I can help someone else reach their own Sacred Place?

Putting Together My Sabbath Picture

Sabbath

Knowledge

Wise

Stop

Practice

Search

These were the Lenten-reflection words for the days of this past week. For most of the days since the beginning of this Lenten season, I’ve purposed to reflect on each daily word, and to share my thoughts in this blog. This week, however, I just couldn’t do it. Sure, I thought about each word on the appointed day. But I simply couldn’t write about them. Until today. Viewing them together in this list today, I could finally see proverbial the forest for the trees. I realized that each word needed the others to speak their collective story to me. And now, I can share it with you.

All six of these words came blessedly together for me this weekend at a women’s retreat, where the theme was ‘Sabbath.’ Through her words and exercises in using images to speak to us in ways that were beyond words, Paula, our wise retreat leader provided a framework that invited us to consider a practice of rest. An encouragement to stop and still oneself. In the listening, participating and sharing of this retreat, there was a tuning-in to God’s love-filled bidding to wellness in the midst of chaos and busy-ness.

For one day, or a few hours, minutes, or even for a few breaths – God coaxes us into a spaciousness where we can hear and begin to know our own Belovedness.

We all know that rest is vitally important for our well-being. Knowledge of the need to do something is one thing. Doing it is quite another. Taking knowledge to its ‘doing’ step requires our time-and-experience-infused inner wisdom – that Spirit-breath opening our metaphorical ‘vocal cords’ that gives voice to an inner call to a Sabbath practice to simply stop.

During the retreat, we were exposed to author Barbara Brown Taylor’s concept of Sabbath as the practice of saying ‘No.’ In her book, An Altar in the World, Taylor talks about the seductiveness in the word, ‘Yes,’ in our multi-tasking, can-do culture, where “the ability to do many things at high speed is not only an adaptive trait but also a mark of a successful human being.” Taylor goes on to say, “As much as most of us complain about having too much to do, we harbor some pride that we are in such demand.” The yes-steeped, false sense of our value that we associate with constant motion makes it difficult to recognize our God-steeped, intrinsic value — a value that is more about our being rather than our doing.

Taylor shares her journey to a place where she found profound wisdom in saying ‘No,’ to the voice in her head that “is forever whispering, ‘More.’” In her own Sabbath practice, Taylor shares, “More God is the only thing on my list.”

There is one more word on the week’s Lenten words that I haven’t yet mentioned: Search. During a beautiful SoulCollage exercise that Paula led this weekend, we were invited to browse through images in a collection of magazines and to tear out the ones that seemed to speak to us, or even to disturb us. We then took these images and put them together on an 8” x 5” card. For me, what resulted in this process was a card that added the missing piece of Search to the rich consideration of all of these other words.

On my card, I first pasted a picture of an empty room. That, for me, seemed to be the starting place for a Sabbath practice. Next, I found a picture of a zipper that was being pulled down, creating an opening. Next to this opening, I added a pair of eyes from a dark-skinned woman; different in color and shape than my own. In the upper right corner, I added a picture of lights inside a glass sphere; an homage to my own inner light. And finally, I added a picture of the Eiffel Tower that was taken from the perspective of someone lying on the ground – not the typical view that we normally see. My completed card is the image you see in today’s blog posting.

The wisdom-infused message that unfolded from the card I created revealed my need to create open and quiet space in my life in order to will birth an ability to search through light-filled new eyes that will allow me to view the familiar from a brand-new perspective.

While I may not set aside a full day each week for Sabbath rest, through my shared experience with the women of this weekend, I feel the invitation to at least stick my toe into the rest-filled waters of saying, ‘No.’

The wisdom of Meister Eckhart’s words, spoken over 800 years ago, stir my heart to Sabbath-rest this day:

“God is not found in the soul by adding anything, but by subtracting.”

Through the Lens of Beloved

Today’s Lenten reflection word, BELOVED, began my day with the sweetest of memories.  In spite of all the challenges that come in any marriage, one thing that Randy could do like no one else was to make me feel absolutely and completely beloved. He used to cup my face in his hands, look tenderly into my eyes and say from the depths of his being, “Oh! Just LOOK at you!” Every other feeling thudded to the ground and I was left with the bare immensity of being someone’s Beloved. It was a feeling so true that it is not bound by time. I feel it in this moment as I did in the moments of years ago. Without a doubt, I was Randy’s Beloved.

I am now, as I also was then, God’s Beloved. Just simply loved because I am. So are you. And so is everyone else.

Think of it! We are God’s Beloved!

Every minute of every day. No matter what. NO MATTER WHAT.

With Beloved as my lens today, I’ve found that somehow everyone looks a little different. My friend across the table at lunch looked  different. My walking companion this morning looked different. The person in the car next to me looked different. Different — like they really belong. Like they are truly Beloved.

This exquisite poem by Jan Richardson says it all, and I share it with you today:

Beginning with Beloved
A Blessing

Begin here:

Beloved.

Is there any other word
needs saying,
any other blessing
could compare
with this name,
this knowing?

Beloved.

Comes like a mercy
to the ear that has never
heard it.
Comes like a river
to the body that has never
seen such grace.

Beloved.

Comes holy
to the heart
aching to be new.
Comes healing
to the soul
wanting to begin
again.

Beloved.

Keep saying it
and though it may
sound strange at first,
watch how it becomes
part of you,
how it becomes you,
as if you never
could have known yourself
anything else,
as if you could ever
have been other
than this:

Beloved.

–Jan Richardson

See the difference with your own eyes, Beloved.

(p.s. You can read more of Jan’s beautiful work at: http://paintedprayerbook.com)

Even Far Is Near

We’ve all heard the phrase, “You can run but you cannot hide.” I have found this to be true in my own experience when it comes to God’s presence. Regardless of my physical location, state of heart or circumstance, if I can awaken myself to it, I have always found that there is a Divine Presence that never leaves me. No matter what.

This Presence is not a menacing, watching-my-every-move presence that is there to catch me red-handed. Rather, when I can enter stillness, even in my darkest, most despairing moments, the Presence that I have experienced is as gentle as my next breath; as reassuring as my own heartbeat.

Today’s Lenten reflection word is: NEAR.

On the morning after my beloved husband died by suicide in our home, I found myself alone in the house after my sister had gone home for a few minutes to get a clean change of clothes. I was still in a complete state of shock; my body sensing a kind of buzzing feeling that I imagined someone might experience after being hit by lightening. My mind was simultaneously racing with thoughts and completely numb. I was as lost as lost could be. And God seemed as far away from me as the closest neighbor in the house pictured in this blog post. Never had I felt utterly and completely Alone.

I closed my eyes for a moment, and heard an unexpected sound. At first it was very faint, and I strained to hear it; almost as though I was turning the dial of radio to find bring to clarity the faint, scratching sound I heard. After a few moments, I recognized the sound. Crazy as it may sound (and I know that this DOES sound crazy!), I realized that it was the sound of purring, and it was coming from the walls of the room I was in. I looked to see if one of my cats was nearby. Nope. I tuned in to hear the hum of the refrigerator. No, this was a different sound than that. I closed my eyes and let the purring sound resonate in my ears; so much so that I could almost feel its vibration.

There was a Nearness in that sound that felt like coming home, and I knew that it was God; there to bring me the sound that had always been so comforting. It was exactly what I needed to carry me in one piece until my sister returned to be with me. And somehow, I sensed that my husband, Randy, was near too. There was Beauty and Light in a moment of the ashes of despair.

I don’t have a scientific explanation for how this happened. That’s not at all important to me. God was near and that was all that mattered.

While the walls in that room have never purred to me since, I often think of that moment, and of the words of the psalmist, David, who had also seen his share of tragedy:

“God, investigate my life;
    get all the facts firsthand.
I’m an open book to you;
    even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
    I’m never out of your sight.
You know everything I’m going to say
    before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and you’re there,
    then up ahead and you’re there, too—
    your reassuring presence, coming and going.
This is too much, too wonderful—
    I can’t take it all in!

Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?
    to be out of your sight?
If I climb to the sky, you’re there!
    If I go underground, you’re there!
If I flew on morning’s wings
    to the far western horizon,
You’d find me in a minute—
    you’re already there waiting!”

~ Psalm 139:1 – 12 (The Message)

Maybe not always in purring walls, but I know from firsthand experience that God is always near.