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Archive for February, 2014

Souljourner at-Large

I thought God was calling me. It was during my grade-school years, before the time of telephone area codes. And the telephone receiver was attached to the base by a cord. It was that long ago!

My elementary school days started with a new beginning in Sycamore Illinois, a small middle-class  town about sixty miles west of Chicago. It also had lots of folks living near the poverty line and there was a well-defined “across the tracks” section where there was always need to be met by the social welfare-minded and Christian flocks that dotted the town map. It was a place where small business flourished, factory life was common and family values were placed high on the totem pole.

We came to Sycamore in 1949  after I had completed kindergarten in Eau Claire Wisconsin, my place of birth. Mom and dad enrolled my older brother Dave and me in St. Mary’s elementary school in the Catholic parish they had joined.

St. Mary’s was a four room red brick school building with a sprawling playground. It was situated just a fence away from the local community hospital, which in my later elementary school years, my mother worked as a nurse’s aid. Each room had two grades and one of the four nuns stationed in the parish taught a day of dual class lesson plans.

We were taught by the Sisters of Mercy, in their black, flowing robes, long hanging large beads of rosary, slipping down the curves of their torso outside their habit, concluding with a prominent, wooden crucifix. A reminder of the Savior’s supreme sacrifice for  all of us.

Sister Alberta was my first and second grade teacher. A pint-size, kindly soul who shepherded her little ones as her own, a motherly presence, who would occasionally caress you to her soft body. One knew then, she was not an angel but a flesh and blood woman who cared for those she tended.  She was perfect as the mentor who would guide her charges into the Catholic highlight of receiving the Body and Blood of Christ at their own First Communion.

Sister Dorothea was my third and fourth grade teacher. I loved that she used early afternoon in the classroom, after lunch and playground time, to read to us. I loved the sound of her voice and the tale unfolding in the book….to be continued the next day. I believe she deepened the root of my love of books, indeed.

I don’t remember the name of my fifth and sixth grade nun. Her body build was the opposite of Sister Dorthea, who was short and softly rounded. This nun was medium tall, slender and graceful. And stern. I remember that Geography got quite serious in this classroom. And to think how the geography of the Earth has changed since then due to wars, power struggles and just plain meanness to our fellow Earth citizens.

Sister Joan was my seventh and eighth grade teacher, and principal of the school.  She was a no-nonsense kind of person and a hearty presence both to child and adult alike. She was a large-boned and full-statured woman, tall, stately and commanding. She was well-placed to be at the coming-into-adolescence population of her young ones.

At my age, I wasn’t even close to having her sense of confidence and self-image but I think she was the influence that got me to thinking about perhaps becoming a nun.

There was a special emphasis, I think, in their teaching mission on calling attention to the possibility of a vocation to either the priesthood for the boys or to religious life as a nun for the girls. This emphasis may have been strewn throughout all grades, but it really stuck out at the seventh and eighth grade levels.

We were to “listen” and hear if God was calling us. In the fifties, it was not unusual for youth who thought they were called into this vocation and would dedicate their life in faithfulness to it, to enter into a religious high school training that led them further down this path.

Our purpose in life, as it was stated in our little blue Baltimore Catechism was “to know, love and serve God in this life and be happy with him in the next.”

I was ok with that then and I still think the “know, love and serve God” is basic to my life as I have lived it in my lay vocation of daughter, granddaughter, wife, mother, and grandmother.

But there were two main impediments for me to go forth into the religious life (although I very nearly did after high school). So I began to pray “not to have a religious vocation.” And later in life I came to know that listening within for that phone call is really not a bad way to go. It is a useful guide, with the Holy Spirit’s help, in your daily path of life.

But back to the impediments.  #1. There was something about the Sister of Mercy’s habit that I knew I just could not live with, which I did not describe above.  Their whole “head-gear” thing to me was visually painful and most certainly uncomfortable looking. I could not fathom how they could adjust to that.

Their white starchy bib that lay from their neck onto their bosom (which we, as kids, actually had discussions of whether they had bosoms or not) and a white fabric that lined their face, hiding most traces of hair (which we also guessed the color of) that led to another white starchy “cap” that cut across their forehead and seated a long, thin black flowing veil, that somehow seemed romantic as it danced with the air flow currents.

I was a girl who favored cotton tee shirts and soft jeans. I was out of my Sunday starchy and nylon picky dresses as soon as possible and actually “dress up Sunday or go visiting days” were my dread. If I were able to say religious vows — and that was a big if — I was pretty certain I could not live with that crunchy part of the habit.

There were rumors, that when the nuns were secluded in their convent, they may have taken off the veil. I surely would have.

So now the second obstacle  to overcome if I were to be a religious was that I was always a hopelessly romantic type. I was early on, I still am in the later years of my life. By high school age, I was reading lots and lots of materials and books available on the variety of choices in religious life. And I read fiction stories on it also.

The trend was that I would always root for the romantic liaison in the story, rather than the religious path. In Sound of Music, my heart sang as Maria, with her exquisitely long veil, walked down the aisle to meet her husband to be, with the support of wisdom figure Mother General.

In Bells of St. Mary’s, I sensed the electricity between the Sister and Father “Bing.” Oh, what could be, had they not chosen their true path. Mutual respect and admiration for each other won out.  And I remember the beautiful Deborah Kerr playing the heroine nun who wrestled with the reality of romance on the screen. I had loved my paperback book of “The Nun’s Story.”

All the questions, feelings, and soul-searching I did regarding this way of life turned out to be fruitful in knowing I was very fortunate in finding and choosing the way that was right for me…..and was my true destiny: married, in love romantically and faithfully, with my husband, over-zealously grateful for the two daughters we gave birth and life to and enjoy the abundant blessings of their children, our grandchildren.

It is grace, beyond measure, to watch life continue to march on through them, their lives and their talents. We have given to the world…..the best….and I pray that in all of our lives, God sees that we are…..

knowing…….loving……and serving him in our life and our world. This purpose is my privilege to live.

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knitting

I used to knit. For a very short time only. I will write about my two knitting projects.

Believe it or not, when I was in high school, there were still actually switchboards in companies answered by real, live people. One of those people was my friend, Caroline. She was out of high school and worked at the Lansing Oldsmobile plant. She took calls all day and “patched them through” to where they needed to be. (without the aid of a computer).

She also did a lot of knitting (probably off company time) and she offered to teach me how to knit. I didn’t get interested enough to take her up on it until my later years in college. But I still lived in my parent’s home and she was right across the street, so we ventured into the teach and learn process together.

I had a simple request. I wanted to make a neck scarf for Tom, my fiance, so that he could keep his neck warm against the cold Michigan winds and snow as he crossed campus to classes and returned back to his college dorm.

I picked an olive green yarn, Caroline probably chose the needles and off I went. It was a simple repetitive pattern, I think something like— knit two rows, pearl two rows.  I began this project late in the fall and intended it to be a Christmas present.

Come Christmas time, I was wrapping up perhaps the shortest neck scarf on record. There was a little problem of time.  I attended classes, worked twenty or more hours per week, including Saturdays, I coached girls’ high school basketball and in between all those things, I knitted….a little.

Tom was such a champ about it. The scarf, with wear and a little stretching over time, just made it to close in front where he tucked it into his winter coat. He wore that scarf a very long time, maybe even a few times after we were married and moved to Kentucky, during one of their rare cold, windy winter days.

Size was a problem with my second project too. Only the opposite. I chose to make a white cable raglan sleeve sweater for my brother serving in the Coast Guard off the coast of Alaska. Caroline coached me all along the way. But somehow, this sweater turned out gargantiously large.

Dave was  5 foot 9inch medium male frame build. This sweater that was only supposed to be Large turned out somehow in the 3X-4X size and the long sleeves may have fit King Kong.  Caroline “blocked it”, shrunk it several times and it still was more than Large. But I mailed it off to Dave.

I haven’t knit since. I sew, I photograph, I write, I paint….I do lots of things I would do less of IF I were using the time to knit. But I have never lost my fascination for it and admire greatly the knit crafts I see from friends.

If I did knit, I would be interested in making knit caps for newborns and bringing them to the hospital maternity wards. Or I would love to be in a group of women who knit Prayer Shawls and distribute them.

But as I said, my knitting story is a very short story indeed, and I don’t see any sequels on the horizon.

yarn balls

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Silence

I watched the Beatles’ 50th anniversary celebration of appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show the other night and got my feet to tapping and my heart to singing.

What a storm of both music and American history lie within their time of fame and how their songs rode the tide of change and consciousness.

But one of their early songs caught my attention again because it is the exact story of the way Tom and I met and fell in love.

“I Saw Her Standing There”

(1,2,3,4!)

“Well, she was just 17
You know what I mean
And the way she looked was way beyond compare
So how could I dance with another (Ooh)
When I saw her standing there.”

Well, I was more than 17. I was in college and I would be twenty-one on my next birthday.  It was most unusual that I was at that dance at the St. John Catholic Student Center because I only went to dances with my girlfriends.

And it is true, we did talk amongst ourselves of the possibility or probability if we would meet the future “one and only” at these dances. We thought the probability mighty low.

The night of the dance where I met Tom for the first time was a night I had accompanied a co-worker friend to an dinner because she didn’t want to go alone. So when I returned home from that (I lived with my parents during college), it just felt too early  and I was too young to stay home on a Saturday night.

In my parents’ car, I drove over to the center, just planning on seeing if I could meet up with some friends  I was working on a project with. They weren’t there, so I thought I would “hang out by the wall” to see if someone would ask me to dance before I went back home.

Then he saw me standing there.

He came over and asked me to dance. He must have thought I looked beyond compare so …. how could he dance with another? We would have a two year courtship and engagement following that first dance, but there was something present that  night when we looked at each other that had us – before too long – falling in love with each other.


Well she looked at me, and I, I could see
That before too long I’d fall in love with her
She wouldn’t dance with another (Whooh)
When I saw her standing there.”

Tom has told me the following words were true for him:

“Well, my heart went “boom”
When I crossed that room
And I held her hand in mine…”

We didn’t leave the floor after the first dance we had and I did keep hold of his hand as we made small talk.  We danced some more and something changed within me forever on the dance floor. The words for it were not there to be spoken nor understood, but destiny was made manifest in my heart and somewhat unbeknownst to me, I would follow that destiny.


Whoah, we danced through the night
And we held each other tight
And before too long I fell in love with her (him)
Now I’ll never dance with another (Whooh)
Since I saw her (him) standing there.”

He did dance with another that night though!  After a few dances with Tom, I went back to “my spot” on the wall. Now I was not quite so anxious to leave the scene even if I weren’t “officially” at this dance. I decided to wait a bit and see if he would ask me again.

He started across the floor in my direction, my heart skipped a beat, and he came near me and asked a different girl to dance.

I left shortly after that. Later, he tells me he was distressed because he planned to ask me to dance next. I found that out because he had memorized my name on the dance floor and knew I wasn’t an on-campus student.

He found the Heffron name in the Lansing phone book (good thing my name was not Smith) and called me that week for a date to the MSU-Wisconsin basketball game.

He picked me up in his little black Volkswagen Beatle. Quite fitting I’d say.

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I Hope You DanceYohji Yamamoto

It was over twenty-five years ago when I saw this picture, which put me in my mid-forties. I walked by this large poster in a camera store in New York City on my way back to the afternoon session of the International Women Writers Guild Conference.

But I could not walk past this woman!

I backed up and stared at the poster for awhile from the sidewalk. I began to hear her tapping feet and the harmonies from the violin. I felt the happiness and the spirit which flowed from this image.

Immediately, I had words for this poster: “I hope you dance.”  I had always liked that song and when it played I let the words seep over my own spirit and felt it reach out as my number one genuine wish for my grandchildren.

May you always choose to dance in your life, regardless of circumstances, whether you are up or you are down, just……dance, dance, dance.

I was pretty sure I was going to make myself late for the beginning afternoon class, but I went inside the store and asked the clerk if they had a duplicate poster and explained to him that I just had to have it.

He said no, that was the only one and it was being used to promote a camera brand sale.  Some of my own intensity of desire must have reached him because he said the sale was going off soon and they would not need the photo anymore. He would give it to me and it was then assured a good home.

He went to the window, removed the poster and handed it to me, who was one happy camper. I probably wrote about her in my afternoon sessions.

Yohji Yamamoto’s name and line signature was below the photo, so I believe that is the name of the photographer and I credit it here.

When I look at this photograph, I remember my young child joy during  the old time family hoe-downs on my grandpa’s Wisconsin farm. I hear my uncle’s fiddle bouncing notes off the wall that filled the room and there was nothing that could keep a body still.  I recall my grandpa taking the center of the kerosene heated room, standing there a moment in his denim blue coveralls and high top brown scuffed up work shoes loosely laced to the top, then breaking into a stomping, loose-kneed rhymetic dance, lost totally in the pleasure of it all.

And it is the light in this woman’s eyes that called me back to that window. It is the same light that is in mine. I know that when I looked at her, my deepest wish was that when I reached her age, the light in my eyes would still shine like that and my feet would still tap out a splendid beat.

She has graced the top of my bookcases since then which means she endured many movings and resetting our homestead up, but she was never displaced nor replaced.

I am now well along the path of becoming this woman’s age. I may even have reached it. Given inspiration, which finds me easily, my eyes still carry the light and my feet invite the dance.  This is good.

Napkinwriter notenotes on a napkin

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IMG_0240

Loving Reminders. That is what she calls them. I have paid attention to them since the late 1990s but she has been writing them much longer than that.

Betty Lue Lieber, an energetic, active, happy, funny spiritual leader and activist, and lover of people and all God’s creation, has a stack of professional credentials behind her but she doesn’t need them to live a life where she freely gives of her gifts. Bottom-line, she serves — life and its people, gladly, gleefully, generously and “of-Godly.

How’s that for alliteration!

It is the beginning of February and many people are now struggling with a self-image that is somewhat dented due to once-again failure to live up to their brand new resolutions for 2014. Self-judgment and the inner critic have tarnished the resplendent resolutions once again and makes them in the mood for “settlement”.  “Oh well, this is me,” they say.

The most common fired-up visions are those of losing weight, exercising more, getting organized, spending less money, saving more.  January is a good combustion month to get going on these paths, but soon the paths lead to distracting sideroads and the comfort of the familiar digressions.

I haven’t made any of those resolutions this year. But I have found a comfortable relationship with food that has prevented weight gain from a recent loss of nearly fifty pounds, and that feels good. My natural inclination is to organize in my environment and envision what I want my day and year to look like. So that too provides enough energy and “will” to create some change and order.

The money part is easy. There is little discretionary income to be had, so it is not there to spend or save. This last part I have the fullest, purest intention to allow to change. So I trust that it does.

The reason I am introducing you once again to Betty Lue is that this past week, when clearing paper work and files in my creativity room, I came across one of her Loving Reminder emails that I had printed out ( spontaneous, inspiring pieces are my biggest challenge to keep the paperwork down and save the trees).

She writes these daily from her long-time practice of quiet time, inner listening and writing down what she hears. She does this daily as a guiding practice to which she remains faithful. They most often are “spot-on” for me. This one was written on July 13, 2002.  I have incorporated it into my daily morning prayer practice and it, indeed, is a great loving reminder for how I want my life to look.

The effort to embody these “ways of being” are what I see as a great alternative to making New Year’s Resolutions. With them, we can adapt the St. Benedict’s attitude of “Each day, a new beginning.”

From Betty Lue: July 13, 2002

“What if I really place my future in the hands of God?
What if I really trust that I will be provided for perfectly?
What if I really live in faith, knowing that lal things work together for good?
Few have done it, but those who do share powerful messages of Peace and Joy.

If I place my future in the hands of God:
I will not worry about the future.
I will never be afraid.
I will live in the moment.
I will enjoy what life brings.
I will stop efforting.
I will slow down.
I will not feel pressure.
I will trust all is well.
I will stop trying to control.
I will spend my time on important things.
I will do what really matters to me.
I will sing and dance through life.  (She does)
I will listen to my heart.
I will quit meaningless activities.
I will stop protecting myself.
I will focus on being happy.
I will let go of what I don’t value.
I will feel free.
I would live as a child.
I will play and create goodness.
I will let go of seriousness.
I will breathe fully and freely.
I will know I am totally loved.
I will just be ME!

If I forgive my past with the Love of God
And place my future in the hands of God,
I will be innocent, trusting, faithful, honest, patient, generous, compassionate, defenseless, gentle, open and joyful.

What more could I want?”

Trusting God and Good in All that Is,” Betty Lue

What more, indeed?  In my prayer practice, I affirm that I DO the first three questions: I really place my future in God’s hands; I really trust I Am provided for perfectly, and I really have faith that all things work together for good. I have enough life history behind me to know the Truth of these things in my life, so I don’t have to guess anymore.

When I recite the “I will” affirmations, all of them, I change them to the present tense for me and I say them aloud:  “I DO NOT worry….I AM NOT afraid….I LIVE…I ENJOY……I STOP…..and one of the one I say loudest of all is:

I PLAY and CREATE GOODNESS.

That’s a resolution of life for me. Thank you, Betty Lue.

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