Category Archives: Musings

Guest-posting at In(courage)

One of the nicest gifts I’ve ever received is this needlepoint.  My Aunt Karen made it for me when I was in eighth grade.

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In addition to being pretty to look at, this needlepoint also inspired a very helpful seven-day prayer exercise.  You can read all about it in  My Week Of The Fruit Of The Spirit over at In(courage).

Have a mindful, intentional Tuesday!

The kindness of strangers

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Stylish souvenir tote

There’s nothing like a backless hospital gown to make you realize how vulnerable you really are.  I spent much of yesterday in one, so I know.

First of all, no one needs to worry; I was in the hospital for a planned surgical procedure, but the procedure was for something absolutely non-sinister.  I don’t want to get too personal about my medical history on a blog, but you can trust me that there is no reason for alarm.  If a raging hypochondriac like me says everything is fine, believe me, everything is fine.

But I will say that the entire experience made me realize just how much we – and  specifically I  – need other people.

“Hospitals are fascinating,” said Scott, who was there with me before the surgery and in the post-op room.  “They are like these little worlds.”  And really, they are: busy worlds with systems and customs and protocol and residents who work together to make people like me come out of everything okay.  In my brief time there, we interacted with at least five nurses, one guy who came to do the blood test, one guy who did the EKG, the guys who wheeled me to and from the OR, the surgeon, the anesthesiologist, the fleet of attending folk in the OR, the nurse in the recovery room, and the elderly auxiliary volunteer in the maroon blazer who pushed me in a wheelchair out to the car.

It seems like so much fuss for just one person and one issue, but I’m glad they were all there.  And nearly everyone was so kind.  It’s one thing to have medical knowledge, and another to have both medical knowledge and a warm, calming demeanor.

As much as the medical issue itself wasn’t a huge deal, I will admit that I was nervous about the procedure.  I felt vulnerable in ways I normally don’t.  It’s not fun to feel like a badly-wrapped Christmas package in a paper gown,  not a whole lot of fun to have a stranger slapping EKG stickers on your chest,  not a lot of fun to need help getting out of bed and to the bathroom.  And the knowledge that I’d be totally out for an hour was slightly unsettling.

So I’m grateful for everyone who helped make it all a little less scary.  It may be a job for them, the thing they do every day, but for the patients, it’s kind of a big deal.

And I felt God’s presence there, in the nurse who distracted me with talk about her favorite English teacher while she put the IV in my hand, and in the recovery room nurse who was so kind as I swam out of my anesthesia fog and tried to get my bearings and no doubt made little to no sense, and in the skill of the surgeon who took care of it all and sealed me up neatly with glue.  (Odd to think that I was closed up with staples after my C-sections, with glue after this procedure.  What’s next — packing tape?).

I’m far more lucid today than I was yesterday, hence this blog post, and though it’s hard to be housebound, there’s something good about it, too.  It’s a forced chance to slow down, to rely on my  husband to make dinner instead of doing it myself.  It’s a chance to baby myself, which I don’t do very often, and it has prompted lots of hugs from both boys as well as the gift of a sweet, abstract impressionist drawing from my younger son.

And most of all, it’s reminded me that  God’s goodness shows up in lots of disguises, including blue scrubs.

Garden of enchantment

View from inside the garden house.

View from inside the garden house.

Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.

– Henry James

I kicked off my summer vacation with a silent retreat — and, a few days later, with a return visit to the gardens and estate of Filoli, site of my desperately-needed Artist’s Date in April.  (I could go solo because it was the last week of school for the kids  … and believe you me, I crammed a lot into that week alone!).

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Filoli is becoming like a religion to me.  This place does something to my soul.  If it seems crazy  to go twice in the space of two months, it really isn’t, because there are new things blooming all the time.

In place of the lilac I adored in April, this time there were hydrangeas.

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The rosebeds were budding, too — clearly we were past the first bloom for many of them, but others were still showing off their color.

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And — amazingly — there were still some pansies in bloom.

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This time, I was captivated by this narrow walkway, between the lawn and the brick marking the boundary of the walled garden.

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I know ivy is a parasite, but isn’t it beautiful?  I’ve always liked it … probably the result of having read so many novels about ivy-clad English estates.

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And somehow, I noticed trees more this time than I did before.  Check out this one, right along the side of the house.  It’s massive.

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Anyhow, it was a truly beautiful day.  I filled the creative well and did some quiet meditation on a bench and found myself wanting to go home and plant more flowers, which I did a few days later.

I also found myself thinking about sharing Filoli with the boys.  I’m not sure taking them both together is a good idea; they feed off each other’s energy, and the paved walkways and nooks and arches would surely make them go into superhero mode.  It is not exactly conducive to the quiet beauty of the place to have two little boys tearing here and there, pretending to be Spiderman and the Green Lantern (the superheroes du jour).

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But maybe if I take them singly?  I’m thinking about it.  Because I love sharing places I love with people I love.  And if this place feeds my imagination, which it does, what will it do for two impressionable young kids?  They’ve never seen a place remotely like this; it’ll be like an enchanted garden to them.

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Of course, if I bring them here separately, it means I’ll have to come here twice more this summer, at least.

And know what?   I’m perfectly fine with that.

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What happens when you go silent for a weekend

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In my professional life, I talk a lot.  I lead discussions and field student questions and give directions for lesson plans and assignments.

In my personal life, I talk a lot.   I nag kids to pick up toys and call my family to the dinner table and answer little-boy questions about how astronauts pee in space (“Maybe Daddy knows?”).

So going on a silent retreat for a weekend sounded tremendously appealing … and also, interestingly enough, somewhat terrifying.

Do I even remember how to do silence?  I wondered as I packed up my classroom for the summer and then came home and immediately packed up a suitcase for my weekend away.  Hours later I headed to the Jesuit Retreat House in Los Altos,  full of hope for the weekend and also somewhat apprehensive about what a weekend in a tranquil, quiet place would do to my chronically overstimulated soul.

I knew the place itself would be gorgeous; I’d been there a few times over the years.   The hilltop property was acquired by the Jesuits in the 1920s, and has functioned as a retreat house ever since.   As I wandered around the beautiful grounds,  I thought about how something Catholics have traditionally done very well – at least here in northern California — is real estate.  This is a stunning piece of land, with tremendous views.

View from the upper parking lot.

It’s hard to tell from my photo, but we’re up high here.

View of the hills beyond.

View of the hills beyond.

I had a private room with private bath (everyone does here).  One of the first things I did was I set up the little writing desk with books, notebook, and the Our Father prayer cube belonging to the boys, which Matthew offered to me as I was about to leave.

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View out of my window, looking at the chapel.

View out of my window, looking at the chapel.

Nice as my room was, I was rarely in it; the grounds are so beautiful, with walking paths and statues and and a labrynth and benches everywhere for retreatants to sit and ponder.

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One of my favorite spots for prayer was this little olive grove, on the side of the hill.  There’s a statue of Jesus kneeling as in Gethsemane (look in the middle of the picture and you’ll see him), and a bench where I did a lot of writing and reflecting.  I recommend it at all times of day, but maybe especially in the evening, when the light is so rich and golden.

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With all the dust and olive trees, it was easy to feel a connection to Palestine of two thousand years ago, and to the man who lived and healed and prayed and loved and showed us all  how to live.

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It was the Feast of the Visitation on Saturday, which made it doubly  nice to reflect on Mary, that mother who understands moms everywhere.

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I noticed the stones placed at Mary’s feet and knew they had to be there to mark requests for her prayers.   I added one of my own.  Having a tangible, concrete sign of my prayer intention felt good.

It also felt good to go to confession, for the first time in … well, a long time.  I hadn’t planned to do it; my personal relationship to confession is complicated, to say the least, and a story for another time.  But the silence and slowness of the weekend invited me to look squarely at some things in my life instead of running away from them, as I usually do.  I had to confront them and name them and move beyond them, and with the gentle and kind presence of the priest, I did.  My whole body felt different afterwards.  It was an experience I’m still processing.

In fact, pretty much everything about the weekend renewed me in some way.  It’s been such a hard year at work, taxing for lots of reasons.  Being able to mark the first weekend of the summer vacation by retreating into reflection was like a huge gift.  (In fact, it literally was a gift; for my birthday earlier this year, my husband told me to pick out a retreat to attend, my first since having kids.  He was alone with the boys all weekend.  I will begin his canonization process shortly.)

And there’s so much more to process: things that swirled to the surface for me, epiphanies and insights and sparks of creative ideas and challenges and affirmation.  Most of all, there was a renewed bond with the person of Christ, who loves me in spite of everything I’ve done and failed to do.

And that came back home with me, into the clutter and bustle of family life, right where I need it.

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The fence and the flower

This is the fence between the neighbor’s house and ours.  Notice the gorgeous white oleander bush in their yard, which I see every time I look out the kitchen window.

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But lately there’s something else to see, too:

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I’m not sure how this single blossom managed to find its way through the tiny knothole in the fence, but it did.   Defying all expectations, it’s blooming there, as if the very wood of the fence is alive.

I like it.  It came at a good time.

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When I compare the events of my life to things that are happening in the news, I realize that in the cosmic scale of things, I really don’t have a lot to complain about.  Still, lately I’ve been fixating on life’s little challenges.  The piles of papers to grade, the strained lower back, the infuriatingly slow rush hour traffic, the mystery rash on my son’s elbow, the laundry that never folds itself — sometimes I can’t see over them.  I let them block my view of all that I have to be grateful for.

So this brave little flower growing right through the fence is more than just a neat trick of nature.  It’s a reminder that grace blooms in the smallest spaces, the tiniest cracks, the busiest lives.