Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Retreat to Silence

What is spirituality?  What is a silent retreat?  Who is God to me at this time in my life?  Do I have doubts?  What is a pilgrim heart?  

The questions above were ones I recently encountered at a silent retreat at The Cenacle, a Retreat Center in Metairie (a suburb of New Orleans), Louisiana that has as it's mission to minister to women in all stages of life.  I have a close friend that had been to a number of silent retreats, and I've wondered if I could ever go to a place of silence for a weekend.  The thought of staying silent in the midst of others seemed an impossibility for someone that is a talker like me. The idea intrigued me though.  So, when an old friend from college posted on Facebook about an upcoming silent retreat, I felt a nudge inside to go. It seemed like the perfect timing.  Since the retreat was only an hour away from my hometown, I could visit my parents as well.  On a leap of faith, I signed up for this retreat ready to meet the challenge of quietness for the sake of growing closer to God. Another interesting fact is that the retreat was going to be a Catholic one, and I am not Catholic.  The friend that posted the retreat I had not seen in over 27 years.  I had no idea what to expect except rigid silence and very plain monastery type food. 
Arriving at the retreat center late that Friday afternoon, I was greeted by my old friend who informed me that we'd be sharing a bathroom.  I was somewhat relieved, yet a little anxious about this first in our friendship.  There were over 50 women eating dinner that night that talked nonstop.  No plain food there.  We had delicious gumbo!  After dinner and our introduction to the retreat by the Director of the Center, Dr. Paul Ceasar, and our speaker, Father Philip Chircop, we began our silence.  The topic for the weekend was "A Big Heart Open to God".  How open was my heart going to be this weekend?  All I knew was I wanted my heart to be open enough to take in all of these new experiences.  I wanted my heart to stretch to hold more of God and His love for others, and even for myself.  After the night's talks, back to our small, simple, comfortable rooms we went to begin our silence.  

The next day, Saturday, consisted of two talks by Father Philip, a Mass, and two meals before we had an afternoon of time to just "be" with God. When I got to Mass, I saw a friend that I had grown up with in Baton Rouge.  She was able to come to the retreat after someone else cancelled. It was hard not to speak out loud to her, so we hugged, and at meals sat across from each other and smiled.  After lunch, I chose to have a meeting with a Spiritual Director which was a recommendation by my friend. The time with her was another confirmation that I was to be there.  Afterwards, I headed over to the levee next to Lake Pontchartrain which is located behind the Center to walk and take pictures.  For me, photography is a form of worship.  Through my camera lens, I see so much more of God's world  The air was crisp, and it felt good to be back to my Southern roots where my spiritual walk began.  My prayer was, "Speak, Lord, I am listening."  

Be Still
After dinner and another inspiring message from Father Philip, there was a Reconciliation Service in the Chapel.  We were to come up with one word that described what we were most grateful for presently and one word to describe the "thorn in our flesh" or a sin we needed/wanted to confess. I had a difficult time in the afternoon coming up with my one word sin. My friend said, "Why don't you ask Him (God)?"  I thought that was a good idea, and was humbled that I had not thought of it. (Yes, we broke the silence for a few moments.)  Right before the service a word came to me that described the "sin" I was to share.  During the service we went up to Father Philip, spoke our two words, listened as he said prayers of forgiveness and blessing over us, and wished us peace.  Simple and sweet is how I'd describe reconciliation.  It was only 7:30 p.m., and time to go to our rooms for more quiet and sleep.  With gratitude, I closed my eyes and slept with peace.  

The final day consisted of breakfast, Mass, our final message, and goodbyes.  I looked around at all of the women, and felt a kindredness with them.  Each had a story to tell that involved heartache and joy.  In the silence, I had experienced kindness, thoughtfulness, and smiles of affection.  I had experienced God through other human beings.  Without words, there was communication.  As we left with hearts stretched wider with love for God, it was time to go down into the valley of reality.  I felt excited to leave knowing my heart was full, and that there were still words and experiences to process.  

Here are my answers to the questions in the first paragraph. Spirituality is to "wake up" to God in my life, to experience Him in everyone and everything.  A silent retreat is one that is contemplative, not rigid, but has a purpose to only draw me closer to God.  To me, God is the great I Am.  He is the most gifted Creator, Author, and Artist. He is the One that came to earth in the form of a human being, Jesus, to be able to relate better to me, someone that struggles again and again in this life. Yes, I have doubts at times.  Father Philip said doubts are positive. Without doubts, we cannot experience faith.  Doubting Thomas was one Jesus' disciples.  Doubting Thomas gives me someone to relate to. A pilgrim heart is a heart journeying to a sacred place.  My pilgrim heart had traveled far to meet with God, and He gave me more gifts than I deserved. 

A Fountain of Blessings
Wherever we are on this road of life, may we all take time for the silence, to draw away from a hectic world, and to pull inward to discover the answers to our deepest questions.  May all of us be blessed with God's grace, joy, and always His love.   

Friday, January 24, 2014

Stop, Think, Speak

Here it is the end of January, and I haven't posted until now.  Sometimes a subject has to come to me in the form of a slap in the face. I confess to not finishing Christmas gifts(calendars for 2014), and committing to projects that took much longer than I imagined.  Enough of that, because there is a subject that keeps coming to mind.

My blog is about being brave.  So much of the time, I encourage myself and others to speak up, to be assertive vs. aggressive.  On the other hand, I believe it takes as much courage to be quiet, not say what runs across our minds, and right out of our mouths.  It takes self control to stop and think before speaking.  No matter how bad something wants to fly out of our mouths, it is best sometimes to just keep our lips sealed. As a talker, this is something I've been practicing for years now.  I decided that no matter what anyone says that is hurtful, I do not have to react in kind.  Responding is different than reacting. Responding includes thinking first.  

The current situation with Justin Bieber throws a light on this topic. The actor, Seth Rogen, tweeted that, "Justin Bieber is a piece of s___," and person after person agreed with him.  Rogen may think that about Justin Bieber, but what possessed him to say it?  Why do multitudes of people have to agree with him?  What good does it do for such negativity to be put out into the world of Twitter or out into the world for that matter? As much as I know there are people who care about Justin, it seems the negative overshadows the positive.

A friend posted on Facebook today a comment about people bullying and being bullied on Facebook, and that she had decided to focus on her work, to not pay attention to such negativity.  I say good for her!  

Another friend had posted that she has been hurt by comments from people on Facebook, and owned the fact that she has hurt others although she didn't intend to.  I thought she was brave to take ownership of her own behavior.  

I am still replaying words from someone that spoke hurtful to me just days ago.  No, I don't think her intention was to hurt, but I don't think she would have spoken the way she did if she had thought about what she was saying.  Even though I've known this person a long time, and the way she can say hurtful things, it still bothered me.  For years I spoke up about this hurt, yet my words didn't seem to make a difference.  It was a victory the other day to remain quiet, to listen, and think about how I was reacting inside.  It was a victory to not have to get defensive, and to realize that her words were about her inability to think before speaking.  

So, as I begin this new year, I want to continue strengthening my ability to think before speaking.  Not only are my words important, but also the way they are spoken.  If I do speak, will my tone of voice be irritated, angry, or kind?  I declare that "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" is false.  I want to be courageous enough to think before I say words that can penetrate and hurt someone else's heart and soul.  This includes the words I even say to myself.  

Monday, December 2, 2013


As I continue to get older, I seem to have this insatiable desire to learn new things.  In my profession, I need 40 continuing education units every two years to renew my counseling licenses.  Since I have zero for 2013, I will be active in the new year learning ways to improve my counseling skills.  This past year has been filled with taking blogging and art workshops online.  No grades or credits involved.  What fun it has been!  I cannot recommend enough for everyone to discover their own interests and pursue them.  If you can do this, I promise you will feel better mentally, emotionally, and even physically.  Any degree of feeling better is healthier, right?

Not everyone is interested in pursuing artsy things, so I'm going to list some ideas to think about pursuing in the days ahead.  Since I am interested in so much, I am learning to prioritize for focusing purposes. I consider myself "a Jack of all trades and master of none," so my desire is to hone in on what to master.  This is an idea list which I'm sure falls short of all there is to be interested in.  I just want to jumpstart for you some thoughts of what your own interests are.

~ blogs, books, magazine articles, poems, reviews, letters, journaling, etc.  

Animals ~ pets, fostering, volunteering, reading about, etc.  
Birds & Insects ~ feeding, watching, etc.
Photography ~ fine art, nature, animals, birds, journalism, portraits, babies, cameras, etc.
Children ~ playing with, learning from, taking care of, advocating for, etc.
Parenting ~ taking classes, participating in groups, reading about, etc.
Reading ~ books, magazines, blogs, Internet, reading to children, seniors, etc.  
Mentoring/Mentors ~ teaching, learning, influencing, being influenced, etc.
Environment ~ land, ocean, forest, air, etc.
Sports ~ watching, participating in, etc.
Spirituality ~ reading about, sharing with others, being still, going deeper, listening, retreats, etc.
Community Involvement ~ participating in, improving, sharing, etc.
Films & Film Making ~ watching, sharing, reviewing, etc.
Technology ~ computers, software, reading about, taking classes, understanding, etc.
Music ~ listening to different types, singing, playing instruments, attending concerts, etc.  
Nature ~ being in, experiencing, noticing, etc.
Humor ~ developing sense of humor, comedy, writing about, awareness in others, etc.
Teaching ~ passing on information, giving out, tutoring, volunteering, etc.
Giving ~ listening, watching, reading about needs, anonymous, gifts, etc.
Politics ~ running for office, getting to know & understand issues, voting, etc.
Walking/Running/Exercising ~ discipline, good health, classes, etc.
Meditating/Praying ~ asking, thanking, listening, awareness, alone time, sharing, etc.
Causes/Advocacy ~ diseases, health, children, women, hunger, etc.
Traveling ~ road trips, alone, sharing, seeing beauty, having fun, visiting, learning, camping, etc.
Culture ~ different types, languages, respecting, traditions, getting to know people, etc.
Archeology ~ history, digging, traveling, etc.
Psychology ~ study of human
nature,disorders,personalities,counseling, etc.
Business ~ marketing, developing, management, selling, etc.
Building ~ construction, estimating, tools, architecture, etc.
Astronomy ~ space, stars, planets, telescopes, travel, etc.
Science ~ brain, biology, functioning, diseases, medicine, etc.
Nutrition ~ vitamins, minerals, needs, supplements, improved health, etc.
Care Giving ~ seniors, children, animals, Hospice, etc.
Finances ~ budgeting, taxes, accounting, etc.
Friendships/Relationships ~ dynamics, sharing, communication, choices, etc.
Social Media ~ Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, etc.  
Inventing ~ thinking, realizing what is needed/wanted, creating, patents, etc.
Television Industry ~ producing, writing, acting, watching, etc.
Entertainment ~ favorite celebrities, game playing, magic shows, circuses, concerts, etc.
Self Improvement ~ reading, going to counseling, awareness, practicing, changing, etc.
Gardening/Horticulture ~ landscaping, plants, water projects, etc.
Helping ~ meeting needs of family, friends, neighbors, and/or anonymously, fire fighting, police, etc.
Cars/Boats/Trains/Airplanes ~ various types, shows, riding in, racing, piloting, models, etc.
Jewelry ~ making, selling, etc.
Religion ~ reading about, respecting, sharing, workshops, churches, temples, etc.
Real Estate ~ looking at, developing, selling, etc.
Gemology ~ stones, rocks, digging for, looking at, workshops, etc.
Crafting ~ creating new things with different objects, taking workshops, etc.
Painting, Drawing, Collaging, Mixed Media ~ reading, watching videos, practicing, taking classes, art journaling, etc.
Research ~ on the computer, libraries, different subjects, finding statistics, etc.
Health ~ medicine, medical, science, reading, nutritional counseling, etc.
Sewing, Knitting, Crocheting, Embroidering ~ quilting, patterns, etc.
Cooking, Baking ~ reading cookbooks, online recipes and instructions, watching TV shows, practicing, eating, restaurants, etc.
Paper Making ~ kits, greeting cards, book making, designing, etc.
Organizing ~ order, helping, containers, etc.
Games ~ board games, puzzles, videos, etc.

Many of you know what your interests are, so I want to encourage you to never stop developing and growing in those areas.  And for those that are unsure of what those are, be inspired to have fun, try different things, and pay attention to how fast your heart beats when something excites you.  


Tuesday, November 5, 2013


I would like to introduce my little gypsy girl, "For the love of art." Last Saturday I took a workshop taught by Suzi Blu at Paper Tales, a scrapbooking store, in San Diego.  After posting my girl on Facebook, a friend asked if she was going to have a horse.  Not this time.  Gypsy girl has a horse, but she is out of the saddle today.  One has to spend some time out of the saddle in order to keep from getting sore.  

This brings me to the topic I keep pondering ~ the tension between being social and spending time alone.  With my growing new love for mixed media, I am realizing that I need "down time" or time out of the saddle. Gypsy girl represents the evolution of a cowgirl as I am still learning how to draw heads,faces, and bodies.  As much as I love Suzi Blu's girls, I want to create ones that model who I am.  To practice this kind of creativity, I need time to think, and to play on paper.  But there is a side of my personality that longs to be social, to be included in those special events that bring us together.  This week in particular I've been feeling the tension between these two opposites that reside inside of who I am. 

Spending time alone is nothing new to me.  Growing up, I played paper dolls for hours under my family's dining room table.  One day, my mother said, "You need to get out and be with people," so I crawled out from under the table, and did just that, went out and made friends.  The tension between alone and social time began a long, long time ago.  

I am realizing that to have the pull of the melancholy vs. the sanguine in my personality is how God created me.  The challenge is to find and keep the balance between the two.  The "how" to apply this balance is simple, yet difficult to practice.  It is knowing when to say "yes," and when to say, "no."  And practice is what I am doing at this later stage of life. I may not always get it right, but that's okay.  Most of the time I seem to be getting it right, and I'm sure as heck not sore from being in the saddle too long.  

Monday, September 30, 2013

A Blank Canvas

Recently, I committed to donate a painting to Paris in a Cup, a darling tea shop and restaurant in Orange, California, for it's cancer fund raiser.  First of all, I'm still not confident in the fact that anyone would want to purchase a painting from me.  And, second, I had no idea what to paint.  These were dilemmas for this "late bloomer" artist. Cheryl Turner, the owner of Paris in a Cup, is a cancer survivor that has become a friend, and I wanted to support her.  I was excited to buy my 11 x 14 canvas, but had no idea what to put on it.

As I stared at my blank canvas, I thought it was such an excellent metaphor for life.  Every day, every month, every new year we are given a blank canvas of time.  We can stare at it for awhile or we can start throwing all the paint on it we can. Danny Kaye,  a now deceased singer/entertainer, said, "Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint you can on it."

So, that's what I did.  I began playing with my paint, paper, and pens on the canvas, and threw everything on it that seemed to fit.  Yes, my canvas is full.  Maybe too full for some, and not full enough for others, but it's my canvas, my choices, and that has to be alright.  And my concern that no one will want to buy my canvas? Well, I know someone that would buy it.  Me!!!  

On my mixed media piece of art is a quote by Vincent Van Gogh that says, "What is done in love is done well."  I'd like to paint my days(canvases) with love, so that I can live well.  What is on the canvas of your day today? Is it colored with love?  I want to encourage us all to not live in fear of what others will think of our choices, but to be brave enough to play with the colors of our lives, and to love the best that we can.  

Monday, September 2, 2013

Try, Try, and Try Again

Diane Nyad accomplished her dream today.  After four unsuccessful attempts to swim from Cuba to Florida, she tried one last time, and made it.  Here are her words:

"I am willing to put myself through anything, temporary pain or   discomfort means nothing to me as long as I can see that the experience will take me to a new level. I am interested in the unknown, and the only path to the unknown is through breaking barriers, an often painful process." 

I can relate to chasing a dream, and not succeeding the first time. After going to graduate school, working 3,000 hours as an intern, I failed the oral exam for Marriage & Family Therapy licensure for the state of California.  Feeling a bit cocky after passing the written exam, I did not go into the oral prepared enough.  After receiving my rejection letter and sobbing, I decided it was time for a makeover mentally, emotionally, and even physically.  I found new coaches and practiced vignette after vignette for months.  I bought a suit and decided to wear my hair pulled back in order to look more professional.  Alas, I went back to the site of my first failure and proceeded to try again.  Even though I sounded like a sheep when I said my name, "Naaaaannnnnnccy Peeeeeveeeeey" into a tape recorder, I could hear (in my mind) my coaches saying, "Get it together, Nancy."  At least six weeks later, the letter arrived again with good news that I had passed.  No, I didn't have to take the oral five times, but it still took everything inside to try again.  It was such a blessing to succeed, because the state decided to not administer the oral exam again.  

Knowing for years that I had to face that oral exam filled me with fear. I was able to keep that fear in the back of my mind as long as I kept moving toward the goal.  Once it was time to meet that fear head on, I was filled with anxiety.  Voices in my head said, "What if you don't pass?  You will feel like such a failure," and those negative voices chatted on. In my second attempt, I had to work hard to quiet those voices, and instead used the mantra, "Get it together, Nancy.  You can do this."  I would imagine Diana Nyad had to battle lots of voices of condemnation after those four other attempts to swim from Cuba to Florida. Her test was not only mental endurance, but one of tremendous physical endurance with certain factors outside of her control. Still, she decided one more time to try again.  At 64 years old, Diana has succeeded.  

Whatever you are going through, whether a dream, a goal, or something unexpectedly traumatic, remember Diana Nyad's three messages.

1.  We should never, ever give up.
2.  You are never too old to chase your dream.
3.  It looks like a solitary sport, but it's a team. 

Life isn't meant to be lived in solitude.  Sometimes we need to be carried along the way, and that's more than okay.  

Monday, August 19, 2013

Widen Your Circle

Kelly Rae Roberts posted a lovely quote this morning by Albert Einstein:
Our task must be to free widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and it's beauty.
It seems the older I get, the more I appreciate nature, and all of it's glory.  Animals can be therapeutic.  They can fill needs that we didn't even know we had.  I recently read an endearing book called, A Street Cat Named Bob, by James Bowen.  James was in the process of recovering from drug use when he met Bob.  After adopting each other, James found something to care for, something to get healthy for, and so he wanted to make sure he stayed clean.  Having Bob was to him like having a child. Theirs is what I'd call a divine relationship. 

Last week while on my way to one of my favorite craft's stores, I pulled into a parking lot and noticed a scruffy looking man with the most breathtakingly beautiful parrot on his shoulders.  Since I happened to have my camera, I asked if I could take pictures of his bird.  He seemed over joyed, and began to talk about and share his pet, Giovani (female), with me.  I commented on how he and his bird seemed so close, and he said, "You don't know the half of it." I introduced myself, and he told me his name is Ken.  Ken said I could share the pictures of them on Facebook, and seemed delighted that I'd want to.  He told me the police were after him for having his bird in the park without a leash, and that's why he was in the parking lot. Although that struck me a bit strange, my heart was touched by compassion for these two, and it confirmed for me once again the healing power of God's creatures.  

One doesn't have to own an animal to love animals.  There are all kinds of volunteer opportunities to spend time with them, and to care for them. Besides the numerous benefits, one of the greatest is how they can teach us to be unselfish as James Bowen learned. A great example is Bernie Berlin.  Her posts are worth taking the time to read. 

Let's all continue to widen our circles of compassion.  And as we do that, our ability to see the beauty around us will increase.