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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Picking strawberries in September

There is something special about picking strawberries in the middle of September.  
Discovering each one is like finding a little miracle hidden in a world of leaves and stems that are already starting to show autumn color. For some reason, our four hanging planters of strawberries are sending out a rush of blossoms and berries – perhaps in an effort to produce as much as possible while the sun still shines, striving to preserve the illusion that summer is still here. Whatever the reason, I am in delighted awe each morning as I head out with my breakfast bowl and top my granola and yogurt with a handful of juicy-red berries. Even our two Dalmatians get in on a few berries these days, as the shoots from the plants hang low with strawberries; carefully they lift their lips and gently pull off berries with their teeth. Thankfully, ‘the girls’ have kindly kept their berry picking to the low growing tendrils and have not begun grazing the plants themselves or my little strawberry miracles would long be gone!
Meanwhile, as I gloat over each treasured September strawberry, the pear tree is dropping beautiful pears right on schedule.I love pears and have waited for them all summer. However, I find myself combing through leaves looking for strawberries in September, choosing these over pears in their prime. Hmmm. How human of me!
Why is it that we desperately prefer to hang onto what was, or long for what will be, rather than be content with what is? You can bet that next month, sometime in October, I will be searching the pear tree looking for one more luscious globe hiding among golden leaves.
I am slowly reading Mother Theresa’s little book, A Simple Path. I say slowly, because I am trying not to gulp it down, but instead to savor her reflections and prayers like those lovely ripe pears—words in their season, one reading at a time. As mundane as this action is, these short, simple reflections and prayers are flashes in time when I intersect with eternity. Something so profound, but found in the daily rhythm of life.

In keeping with the theme of this week, let me share a couple of short, sweet bites with you:
The Simple Path
The fruit of silence is
The fruit of prayer is
The fruit of faith is
The fruit of love is
The fruit of service is
Help us, O loving Father, to take whatever you give,
And to give whatever you take,
With a big smile.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Chasing the blue ribbon cake ...

Okay, this is how it happened.
Last summer, my husband learned how to can applesauce. He quickly became enamored with canning, and began boiling jars and mixing syrup and experimenting by combining fruits and spices. He created concoctions he called, “Rhubarb Jungle” “Ruby Slippers,” and “Ginger Spice for Hot Monkeys.” This summer the masterpiece was “Rhubarb Figgy Pudding,” a mixture of figs, rhubarb and apples from our backyard cooked to a sweet, tangy, tasty mess called a conserve by cooks in the know. He decided to enter “Rhubarb Figgy Pudding” in the Northwest Washington Fair in Lynden, Washington.

Let me back up a bit.
During most of these canning blitzes, I remained chained to my computer, writing yet another draft of my dissertation proposal. About the time that steam was pouring out of our kitchen and the aroma of rhubarb, figs and apples filled the air, still at my computer, I turned on the TV. There was Aunt Bee preserving pickles for the Mayberry Fair. Do you remember that episode of the Andy Griffith Show? When Aunt Bee was trying to outdo Clara and win the blue ribbon for pickles? Well, just as Aunt Bee peered into her pickle jar, my husband entered the room holding up a jar of “Rhubarb Figgy Pudding” and announcing this was The One. Suddenly I felt this odd peer pressure to join in with the crowd (well, with Aunt Bee and my husband) and enter something—anything—in the Fair. “I will bake a cake,” I blurted. “I will enter a cake in the Fair.”

Reflecting on this decision, I suppose part of it was a drive to avoid writing the current draft of my dissertation proposal, but also I just wanted to try something new.
Although I have baked a cake before (perhaps 15 years ago?), I had never before entered anything in a Fair. Oh, the pleasure of deciding to do something new! To wander out into a new path not knowing how it will turn out … okay, okay, it wasn’t that big a deal, but I really did NOT know how this cake that I proposed to bake would turn out, so there was a bit of mystery to enjoy!

I do think that starting something new is a rush because of this mystery component of starting down an unfamiliar road ... you feel brave and slightly heroic for deciding to do it. The planning to begin the new thing is totally fun. Especially when you get to buy new stuff. (I got a new cake pan and a flour sifter.)

When you actually start the new thing, though, the reality can be scary and frustrating or so alien that you wonder why you ever wanted to do it.
And the stuff you need to buy can be scary in itself … like the price of nursing textbooks or the sheer size and heft of them. At this point, the reality of your decision to go to nursing school can hit like a ton of bricks. It can feel scary, stressful and so alien that you wonder why you ever, ever, wanted it. I think that I can safely say to any and all nursing students that if you don’t feel this right now, there will be some moment along the way in the next four years that you will. When that moment hits, take a deep breath (or six or seven), go for a walk or a run, hug a puppy, look at the stars or the wonderful liquid star shine we are blessed with 10 months of the year, and thank God for the ability to feel and grow and wonder and to reflect on your journey.
And go bake that cake!

By the way, to my utter astonishment, my cake got a blue ribbon.

No kidding!

(apologies to Julia Child for pasting my face on her picture)

Monday, September 7, 2009

Countdowns and being: the sacrament of the present moment

I am a ‘countdown’ freak. I get a thrill when the ball drops, number by number, on December 31st at 1159. To be honest, the New Year that follows is a bit of a let down—the countdown is much more exciting. Yes, the kitchen timer mesmerizes me when I cook eggs. I can’t pull those eggs off the stove until that 00 flashes and I hear that beep—it’s got to be the countdown thing. I must have always had this fixation, because when I was a kid, I used to con my little sister into doing my chores by promising to ‘time’ her. “Wow!” I would say enthusiastically, “You were WAY faster this time!” And I would watch her scurry around trying her darnedest to beat the clock when I started the final “9, 8, 7, 6, ..."

The countdown neurosis continued when I entered college and nursing school. I remember pulling out the nursing program, all those semesters laid out, course by course … it looked like eternity on a page. But, I would begin the countdown: first course, second course, third course done—one semester down. The check marks beside each core course, every elective, and each semester like a ticking clock counting down the program. When my pencil checked off that last course – what a rush. The 00 of the egg timer, the beeping microwave, the cheers as the ball dropped at midnight, all combined.

Then it was over. I had graduated. But, like the New Year’s countdown, the day after graduation was nearly as flat as the day after New Year’s Eve. My college friends and I had spent hours longing for school to be done. Watching the clock through lectures, wishing we were ‘real’ nurses instead of ‘just’ student nurses. Waiting for the day when we could write ‘RN’ after our name and collect the paycheck to match it. Suddenly, there it all was and I remember thinking, well, this is great—but now what?
Looking back, I realize how amazing it all was: nursing school and college and nursing buddies and those incredible patients that I can’t forget to this day. And I wonder how much I missed—how much we all missed—by fixating on the countdown rather than the incredible experience we were all going through. Jean Pierre De Caussade, a spiritual writer in the 18th century, would have laughed at my countdown fixation. He reflects on what he called the sacrament of the present moment:
Uninterruptedly your life will flow through the unfathomed abyss where you have nothing to do but love and cherish what each moment brings, considering it as the best possible thing for you. When God lives in us we have nothing to help us beyond what he gives us moment by moment. Nothing else is provided and no road is marked out. The present moment holds infinite riches beyond your wildest dreams but you will only enjoy them to the extent of your love and faith.

It is only in the present moment that we truly meet the eternal, for that is where Christ, who is Love and Joy, meets us—not in the past or the future, but now. He is present through one another in our minute-by-minute relationships, as we move and engage with Creation, and in the work he has called us to do as students and as faculty. We are all beginning 15 short weeks together. They will fly by regardless of whether or not we put a check mark beside every task completed or watch the clock through every lecture. We have a choice to meet each moment as a gift from God and a visitation of Christ himself. In return we can receive the riches of deep joy he grows in us.

Blessings on your semester!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Rhythm & Respiration

I love this picture--the 12 month experience of a tree in a snapshot. Sometimes I think that it would help us understand the natural seasons of life a bit better if we could pull back and see the big picture now and again. Maybe then we could learn to live in the eternal moment, appreciating the nuances of each season.

I am calling this blog Rhythm & Respiration because I like the wordplay between the biological/nursing meaning of rhythm and respiration and the spiritual understanding of these words. I'm wanting to use this blog to invite a thoughtful integration of faith and nursing, as well as simple spiritual inspiration. Yep, 'inspiration,' there's another word common to nursing and spirituality!

Rhythm: There is a rhythm to the academic year, the natural year, the life span and body, such as circadian rhythms, hormone and cardiac cycles, as well as the Church year from Advent to Pentecost. It is easy to become disconnected to these rhythms when stressed, unless we are continually called, body, mind and spirit, to re-enter these refreshing rhythms.

Respiration: ‘Respiration’ and ‘inspiration’ are intrinsically connected. Assessing breathing is not only the first order of triage and necessary for all creatures (even trees and cells must undergo respiration), but ‘Breath of God’ is a metaphor for the Holy Spirit, vital for spiritual health in the body of Christ.

Rhythm: the Church year

I'm hoping that this blog becomes for me a spiritual discipline of sorts. A devotional journal that helps focus me on the present moment, honoring the natural rhythms of the life I've been given and breathing through and into the moment with Creation and community. I invite you to join me on my journey, finding joy in the rhythm of your world and joining in the breathing in and out of your community.

Blessings on the journey!