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.

 

 

All Writers Welcome at Upcoming Conference

I vividly recall that June day in 2011, standing outside the door of a building where a writing conference was being held, steeling myself for whatever, or more accurately whoever, was on the other side. I’d heard about the annual Cedar Falls Christian writer’s conference the previous year but doubted it was meant for someone like me. Though a Christian, my writing wasn’t targeted for Christian markets. Despite having a book released by a small publisher in 1996 and hundreds of published clips, I still didn’t think of myself as a “real” writer. Surely everyone in the room would have had multiple books published, likely by big Christian publishers. They’d be making a living off their writing, spending hours every day honing their craft. Conferences weren’t for people like me; a stay-at-home mom writing to maintain a semblance of creativity as I struggled to raise children and make ends meet.
It took every ounce of courage I had to walk through those doors into a room filled with people I was certain were more prolific than me. It had to be God’s providence that I sat next to a woman whose reply to my “What do you write” query was that she penned handwritten letters as a ministry. I relaxed. Maybe I did belong there. I would soon discover the surge of creative energy that happens in a room full of people interested in the same thing. I learned, and am still learning, about the publishing world from more experienced authors. Simply put, I found my tribe, netting mentors and friends in the writing community.
Nine years and some six published books later, I’m firmly entrenched on the other side of that door. Convinced we are all here to help each other fulfill our God-given potential, I’ve taught workshops at that same conference every year since, and at community colleges, libraries, and my workplace as Program Coordinator at a spirituality center. Inevitably, I hear that familiar lament “I’m not a real writer.”
“If you’re writing, you’re a writer,” I insist as I strive to encourage other wordsmiths to believe in themselves, half the battle in defeating writing angst. Learning the trade is important too.
Shalom Spirituality Center will be hosting a writer’s conference Friday, February 14 and Saturday, February 15. Twila Belk, also known as the “Gotta Tell Somebody Gal,” will be keynote speaker for the Faith Writers Writing Conference. Twila is the author of seven books and directed the Quad Cities Christian Writers Conference for eight years. Her newest book, The Power to Be: Be Still, Be Grateful, Be Strong, Be Courageous, is a 40-day devotional from Broadstreet Publishing. Twila Belk
Other presenters include fiction authors Shelly Beach and Patti Stockdale, nonfiction authors Mary Potter Kenyon and Linda McCann, UNI professor Doug Shaw, Loras professor Kevin Koch, and Dubuque poet Valorie Broadhurst Woerdehoff.
Attendees can choose from presentations on writing fiction, non-fiction, poetry, marketing and book proposals. Whether a seasoned or aspiring writer there will be workshops to choose from, along with inspirational messages and opportunities for networking with professionals in the writing industry. Follow the Faith Writers Facebook Page for updates.
The conference will be held at Shalom Spirituality Center, 1001 Davis Street, in Dubuque. The cost of the two-day conference is $100, which includes lunch both days. An overnight option that includes a room, lunch both days and Saturday morning breakfast is $150. Partial scholarships are available. Register & prepay by Monday, February 10. Call 563-582-3592 to register. Contact mkenyon@shalomretreats.org for more information or to apply for a scholarship.

Author, Artist, Activist John Schlimm coming to Dubuque, Iowa

“God never gives us more than we can handle. When we see each joy and, yes, sorrow that comes to us as a gift, and we greet both with gratitude, that’s what makes us stronger people. That gratitude is what helps us build our faith and gives us purpose while we’re here. Otherwise, so much would be unbearable.”

That was just one of the nuggets of wisdom I jotted down as I read John Schlimm’s Five Years in Heaven in May 2015.

“I want one,” I thought as I read the 31-year-old author’s story chronicling his unlikely friendship with an 87-year-old nun. “I want an old nun friend who can teach me with her wise words and gentle tone.”

Theirs was more than a friendship~ it was two quiet souls connecting in a world that sometimes seems to have gone mad.

My daughter, whose eight-year-old son had died a year and a half before, loved the book as much as I did. Not every author would reply when a fan contacts them, but John did. When I told him two wounded souls in Iowa loved his book and asked for personalized autographed copies, John sent these:

John schlimm books with artWe treasure our personalized piece of art on the end pages of a book that contains passages like this:

“These days, people are so caught up in a world that’s competitive and full of temptations. Everyone wants something bigger or more than their neighbor has. A bigger house, a bigger job, more money, more clothes, more gadgets, more popularity, more things. Everyone tries to outdo one another. It’s rare to hear of someone who wants a bigger heart, a bigger faith, or a bigger sense of gratitude for what they already have.” 

Clarke University and Shalom Spirituality Center have collaborated to bring John Schlimm to Dubuque in March, where he will appear at several events. On Monday night, March 11, celebrating the 30th anniversary of Shalom, a 6:00 pm dinner will be followed by facilitated discussion related to John’s friendship with Sister Augustine, their mutual connection to Saint Francis, and matters of heart and soul. Cost is $25.

Five-Years-in-Heaven

On Tuesday, March 12, at 6:30 pm, a Participatory Art night will be held at Shalom. Attendees can contribute to three projects; an art piece similar to John’s THE SMILE THAT CHANGED THE WORLD (is yours) that is displayed at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, flower paintings on canvas that will be taken to a Dubuque area nursing home or retirement center, and a Compassion planting project with letters of compassion printed on recycled paper that contains flower seeds. Cost is $15, which includes materials.


A book club discussion of Five Years in Heaven will be held in the Shalom library on Thursday, March 14 at 6:30. Copies of the book are available at RiverLights Bookstore in Dubuque. Offering is $6, plus the cost of the book. Contact Shalom Spirituality Center, 1001 Davis Street, to register for these Shalom events. 563-582-3592 or Info@shalomretreats.org. Contact Mary Potter Kenyon at marypotterkenyon@gmail.com for more information.

Clarke University is hosting John for a discussion of his varied pursuits on Wednesday night, March 13, at 7:00 in Jansen Music Hall on Clarke campus. The event is open to the public. Contact Hunter Darrouzet at 563-588-8192 or hunter.darrouzet@clarke.edu for more information.

On Friday, March 15, Convivium Urban Farmstead, 2811 Jackson Street, is hosting a Vegan Cooking demonstration and discussion with John Schlimm, followed by an optional meal. See convivium-dbq.com/events for registration, or contact Leslie Shalabi at 563-557-2900 for more information.