faith, pandemic

A Liminal Space

As a writer, I’d been looking for that perfect word to describe these last three months as I’ve worked from home, experiencing social distancing and isolation. The initial fear, the continued anxiety. Heightened loneliness. That pervading sense of uncertainty. I most definitely was not comfortable. I valiantly searched for ways and tools to navigate this unknown: journaling, reading devotionals and inspirational writing, taking walks, keeping busy with work-related tasks, and yes, some unhealthy ways too…binge-watching too much television, imbibing in more comfort food.
But mostly, I’ve been waiting…
Waiting for what? For things to get back to normal? Some days, the uncertainty of that can feel paralyzing.

As a writer, I am used to doing a certain amount of writing- if you count journaling and letters, daily writing. Yet two unfinished essays sat on my desktop for the last three months, and I’ve wondered why.

Oh, I’ve still been writing: Monday morning meditations for my workplace, working with my editor on my upcoming Called to Be Creative… an essay here, a blog post there.
Then a friend casually mentioned how my writing was a break for me, and I recoiled from those words- a break? Everything in me screamed NO…writing is my passion! It’s not a break; it’s my work, work that doesn’t feel like work. My other job. Taking an afternoon walk; now, that’s a break.

Until I suddenly realized she was right. I had been treating writing as a “break” these last three months. And maybe that is okay during a pandemic, but maybe I’m also missing out on the benefits of this period of time, whatever we call it. Maybe I should STOP WAITING for everything to go back to normal, because all indications are that “normal” isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Even with businesses gradually opening up, things are still going to look very different.

So I asked myself then: what am I waiting for? Is someone else going to finish those essays? What can I be getting out of this period of time that I haven’t already?

Then I read about liminal space.

liminal space

I’d never heard of it before, so I looked it up.
Liminal Space: The word liminal comes from the Latin word ‘limen’, meaning threshold – a point or place of entering or beginning. A liminal space is the time between the ‘what was’ and the ‘next.’ It is a place of transition, a season of waiting, and not knowing.

Yes! That’s exactly what this time is; we don’t know what August or September or October will bring. We have no idea how long we’ll need to wear masks or practice social distancing.

Here’s the thing that fascinated me most about this description of liminal space.
Liminal space is where all transformation takes place, if we let it form us.

Author and theologian Father Richard Rohr says it like this:
In that space—which is mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual—we are destabilized, disoriented. The old touchstones, habits, and comforts are now past, the future unknown. We only wish such a time to be over. We may be impatient to pass through it quickly, with as little distress as possible, even though that is not likely. . . .
Dwelling in unsettling liminal space, whether we are pushed or we jump, we are led to draw on resources and possibilities we may not have tapped before. In the unknown space between here and there, younger and older, past and future, life happens. And, if we attend, we can feel the Holy Spirit moving with us in a way that we may not be aware of in more settled times.

This is our today, what we are experiencing is our now. Am I going to let a little thing like a pandemic stop me from an opportunity for transformation? Now you know I’m being facetious here…. A pandemic is no little thing, but it is what is happening now, and maybe part of my discomfort has been because I’ve done something I wouldn’t normally do, and let unfinished essays sit on my desktop, mocking me.

Here’s what else Fr. Richard Rohr said “But what if we can choose to experience this liminal space and time, this uncomfortable now, as . . . a place and state of creativity, of construction and deconstruction, choice and transformation.”

This really had me paying attention. What if this can be a place and a state of creativity? Of course it can, and for many of us, it has been; in learning new things like Zoom meetings and using technology in different ways. Maybe we’ve ordered groceries online for the first time or discovered online learning for ourselves or our children. We’ve “made do” when we would have bought new, or read more, played more, prayed more, or taken up walking.

If writing is my passion and my mission, then I have to put in the work. With that in mind, on Saturday I sat in front of my laptop for a good eight hours. I forgot to get dressed. I forgot to eat lunch. I did what makes me come alive, and I wrote. I finished those two essays and submitted them. And while all this creativity was banging around in my head, I went one step further and reworked a poem I’d written months ago and submitted it to an anthology that was looking for religious poetry.

It was, indeed, a transformative process, a feeling of being back to what God created me to do.

What about you? What’s holding you back? What can you take away from this liminal space? What unfinished project can you finish in this pandemic?

Bible verses, faith, grace, prayer

Thrust Into Stillness

Be still.
I wrote those words in my journal in July 2012, four months after my husband died. I’d been writing daily for weeks, frantically and feverishly. I journaled, blogged, wrote articles and essays. I’d sit on the couch, surrounded by piles of papers, pens, notebooks, and dozens of books written by authors who’d walked this path before me. My children called that end of the couch “Mom’s nest.”

Then one morning, I woke up and couldn’t write a word. “Be still,” I heard, and I knew where the prompt had come from. I’d allowed for quiet, contemplative time, but my mind had not been still. Anything but…because as long as I was writing about David, love, and marriage, I could keep him alive. God knew if he took away my writing, I’d have to face my loss. I’d have to turn to Him. “Be still.” But there’s more to that Bible verse. Psalm 46:10: Be still and know that I am God.

Know that I am God. I was still discovering how to have a personal relationship with God, was just learning to recognize his voice. God doesn’t shout out commands. He doesn’t force us to follow. No, God is found in the stillness, in a whisper.

1 Kings 19:11-12: The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

– That whisper was God.

Because of this virus, self-isolation and social distancing, many of us have been thrust into a state of stillness. Events have been cancelled, large groups forbidden- we might be experiencing a less hurried and busied lifestyle. Others, like those on the frontlines, working those essential jobs of medical professionals, workers in care centers, grocery store workers, truck-drivers- and God bless each and every one of you- are seeing the opposite; longer hours, a busier schedule.

But if you are one of the many who are self-isolating, staying home, know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. God is right there with you. Be still. Stop everything right now. Breathe in. Breathe out. Listen. Is God speaking to you?

Stillness brings you into the present moment. The Now. If we are so worried about what is going to happen, we will miss the now.

I live on Rush Street, appropriate considering I always seem to be in a hurry…Rushing to accomplish more, do more. Be more. While I’ve learned many lessons in the past eight years, I’d reverted back to my ‘keep busy’ mindset. Working from home the past week, when I needed some fresh air, to get out of the house every day after my work was done, I began taking daily walks. I used to enjoy walking with my husband or sister because it meant time talking to them. When I lived near a store or library, I enjoyed a walk to one of those places. But walking just for the sake of walking without a companion for conversation or a place to head to, or even nature to wander in seemed pointless…a waste of precious time…just another “should” to add to a long list of things I should be doing.

I see other people walking; couples, families, pet owners with their dog…they keep their distance, I keep mine, though I admit, when I’m not crying, I meet their eyes, smile, and search their faces for a human connection.

Yes, I sometimes cry on my walks. I was surprised, and quite irritated, the first time it happened, but those quiet moments away from my house, away from work, and my teen daughter, the tears come unbidden. I cry for those workers on the frontlines, for friends prevented from visiting parents or grandchildren, for my family, myself…loneliness exacerbated by isolation, missing my children, my workplace, co-workers, my uncle’s funeral, my granddaughter’s 7th birthday.

I realized one day, when unwelcome tears threatened to spill down my cheeks yet again, these walks are the perfect time for meditation, and that tears can be a form of prayer, a call out to God. I was kinder to myself then and cried less.

flowers

I began noticing things on my walk; buds of flowers rising from the dirt in yards, beauty I would not have noticed before. Christmas lights that appeared on someone’s house overnight, obviously put back up to brighten dark days, an inspiring message written on a sidewalk with chalk. sidewalk

When I stopped to admire the artwork, a little boy in a nearby yard cried out repeatedly “Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi!” His mother tried to shush him- to not bother the lady. I called out “No! I feel the same way, getting out. Hi People!” We both laughed. A spot of grace. A soul connection. I smiled all the way home.

Today, it was hearts on the doors of many houses.

Are you seeing hope in the buds of spring? Feeling joy from the boisterous greeting of a little boy across the street? Are you being the hope in writing inspiring messages on the sidewalk, hanging out your Christmas lights? Taping hearts to your door? I see God in you.

Be still. Listen. Do you hear it too? The sewing machines of women creating masks instead of quilts. Factories suspending usual production to make medical equipment. Music and stories being shared, on porches and online. Art being created.

That’s hope you hear, in the background of despair.

Watch my Monday Morning Meditations for my workplace, Shalom Spirituality Center in Dubuque Iowa.

 

 

Called to Be Creative, creativity, death, faith, grief

Remember the Best. Erase the Rest?

eraser pencilSorting through my vintage pencils yesterday, I came across this interesting specimen that sports an eraser as long as the pencil itself. What a novel idea, though I’m not sure how the length would fare with actual use, the rubbery tip giving with any pressure. Surely it would break off? My first thought was to search eBay for more of the same, to give out at writer’s workshops. “Erase the Rest. Go with the Best,” is perfect advice for writers. Rough drafts are…well, rough… They aren’t meant to be submitted. I always advise edits and revision. Reading pieces out loud to hear rough spots. Making sure the final manuscript is well-edited before submission, and even then, setting work aside until morning and looking it over again. Good writers only submit their best work.

But what about memories? Should we attempt to erase bad memories, concentrating only on the good? At first glance, that seems sound advice. It stands to reason that if we only think happy thoughts, we’ll be happier. Science supports this platitude. I discuss the elements of happiness and creativity in my upcoming Called to Be Creative

“More grief?” someone commented two years ago when I shared I was working on another book. She didn’t attempt to hide the derisive tone or the eye-roll. The words stung, long after her quick apology.

For the record, I’ve written about couponing, refunding, saving money, friendship, and caregiving. I’ve had hundreds of articles and human interest pieces, unrelated to grief, published in magazines and newspapers.

But, yes, it does seem that grief sneaks into my everyday conversation.  Thanks to this morning’s Facebook’s “Memories on this Day” app, I can say with some assurance that it was eight years ago today we discovered my young grandson’s cancer had returned. According to a heart surgeon later that month, it was also the date my husband’s evening shoulder pain indicated the first in a series of small heart attacks.

Those aren’t pleasant memories by any means, and some might wonder why I even address their “unpleasantness” on my blog.

Those memories are part of me. I am who I am today because of them. As much as I wish my husband had not died that March, or my grandson the following year, they did. I can’t erase the truth, nor should I, considering how those losses changed me.

“Interest in how trauma can be a catalyst for positive change took hold in the mid-1990’s, when the term ‘posttraumatic growth’ was introduced by pioneering scholars Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun. Posttraumatic growth occurs when a person utilizes hardships and life trauma to grow in their interpersonal relationships, spirituality, appreciation of life, personal strength, and yes, creativity. This proved true for me on all fronts. I’m no longer the person I was before I lost mother, husband, and a grandson in the space of three years. In the seven years following my husband’s death, I signed six book contracts, coordinated an annual grief retreat, became a public speaker and workshop presenter, established a large network of mentors and friends, and developed a personal relationship with God in the process. My husband foresaw the professional achievements, but no one who knew me just ten years ago could have predicted either the spiritual or the relationship changes, least of all me.” — from “Called to Be Creative”

While it’s true my next book is about creativity, loss and grief do make several cameo appearances. How could they not? The death of my mother in 2010 prompted the idea for the book. If a woman raising ten children in a poverty-stricken household could manage to create, wasn’t there hope for the rest of us? If she left behind a creative legacy in a masterpiece of a well-lived life, how could we do the same? For two years, I delved into research, interviewed people who were living a creative life, and formed two different creativity groups to test my jumpstart activities on. The result is a book that is meant to educate, inspire, and ignite the latent creativity we all carry within us. Grieving my mother was the impetus to write the book.

“The creative process is far too often inspired by our most painful experiences rather than our most inspiring ones. It would not be a stretch to say that for many artists, authenticity and tragedy are inseparable,” Erwin Raphael McManus writes in The Artisan Soul: Crafting Your Life Into a Work of Art.

If I could erase the bad memories; the moment the doctor closed the door after informing my daughter her five-year-old son had cancer, the sight of my husband in a hospital bed after stent surgery, the five long seconds of disbelief when I discovered him unresponsive in his chair— would I? Would I delete those moments? After all, it is those vivid memories that bring a piercing ache to my chest, a single sob choked back, the threat of tears in a public place.

Perhaps my latest creative project answers that question. When I decoupaged the top of an old desk, I chose photos, newspaper clippings and words that inspired and lifted me. I glued the word Miracle next to my grandson’s photo, not because we were given a miracle healing, but because his presence in our life, however short, was the miracle.

desktop

God was there in all of it…in every single moment. While I thought my heart was breaking in two when my husband died, it was actually breaking wide open, allowing me to become a different person. In those dark months that followed, I knew instinctively what I needed, and I turned to God. He walked before me and with me.

I revel in the good memories of those people who have gone Home before me. I am grateful for the loved ones who are still here. I count myself blessed.

But no, I would not erase a slew of bad memories to risk losing even one good moment. Those memories made me who I am, they are a part of me, and I will not apologize for mentioning them.