To Do

I took a spontaneous day off work today (Thursday).  I heard a weather report yesterday that made me long to be outdoors rather than at my desk and computer, and I seized the opportunity.

The list of things I intended to do today, on my day “off”,  included:

  • weigh in and post on this blog
  • weed
  • plant hollyhocks by the garage
  • spread mulch
  • put up a rose trellis so the climbing rose has something to climb
  • laundry
  • begin sorting out my craft room
  • finish a bead project that currently resides on my dining room table (because I can’t wade through the craft room, see previous item).

What I actually accomplished is this:

  • sat outside in the sun, with iced coffee and a writer’s magazine
  • talked on the phone with my friend Sue, who is in the hospital enduring the grueling first days after knee replacement surgery
  • ate lunch from a roadside grill at Nelson’s Meats with my friend Molly
  • bought some great pens
  • sat outside in the shade, at Coffeesmith’s, sipping iced tea and pretending to write but actually daydreaming and rereading journal entries from last October
  • took iced coffees to my friend Sara’s house and held Ellie, the sweetest little baby Sara cares for
  • worked out for 20 minutes
  • daydreamed in a dark room while wrapped up like a human-sized burrito (a far-infrared body wrap, truly lovely)

Forget the arguments about baseball or football being the great American pastime. The truth is, Productivity seems to be both our work and leisure-time activity of choice. Our To-Do Lists runneth over.  Occasionally, though, we have to stop do-do-do-ing and try just being.

Today was a day for being.  For seeing the beauty of the trees, for smelling the freshness of spring in the air, for turning a face to the warm sun and feeling gratitude for the here and now.  I know that my to-do list will be there tomorrow, waiting for tick-marks of completion.  But today was an ephemeral treasure, good for only one brief, perfect moment.  Was I productive today? Perhaps. Did I accomplish everything I needed to? Check.

Friday, May 28, 2010

SNC00157.jpg, originally uploaded by jhnsn728.

Sorry about the poor quality of this photo! Need to clean the lens, I think. For those who have not heard and are wondering, the MRI results have confirmed a torn meniscus. I will see the orthopedics specialist next Friday, June 4, and then we’ll have a better idea about the next step. Thanks for all your kind thoughts!


Finals week on a college campus is a mixed bag of strange experiences.  A sample from today:  a discussion with a senior about Octavio Paz, Mexican women’s sexuality and her experience of dual cultures; a European student trying to bum a ride to O’Hare to catch his flight home; a giant student-constructed slip-n- slide; a visit from a parent moving her third Mount Mercy student home for the summer.

In my department, finals week is a time of furious activity. Always more to do than hours in a day.  However, this week (of the whole year) it is most difficult to buckle down and get stuff done.  Instead, I find myself taking every opportunity for deep discussions or silly celebrations — both of which abound.  It is as if students finally realize that they are surrounded by people who care about them and relax their guard enough to genuinely connect.

This year, finals week is bookended by emotionally charged events.  Last Saturday, I attended the end of year banquet for one of our sport teams, and the coming weekend holds commencement activities.

At Saturday’s banquet, the coach, well-respected by his peers and genuinely caring toward his athletes, said a few words about each student.  When he got to the seniors, he became so choked up he could barely proceed.  This is an annual event, mind you — both the banquet and the tears.  Despite the good-natured teasing from athletes and their families, no one really wishes for a year when he can maintain his composure. That would mean a year in which he had lost his love for coaching, a year in which (regardless of accolades) the team had been unsuccessful.

In a few days, at commencement, I will watch hundreds of students cross the stage to be handed their diplomas.  Many, I will not know.  A few, I will honestly be happy to see moving on.  But there will also be those seniors whose lives I have been privileged to be part of for the past two or four years.  Many scenes will cross my mind, some funny, others tragic.  As they shake hands with the president and leave the stage, each one of those students is moving forward into a life that holds unexpected events, people, treasures, setbacks.

Hence the name, “commencement”.  The forward movement is the important piece – not the leaving behind, not the memories, not the looking back nostalgically.  My hope is that each one of us, whether celebrating a particular commencement or not, may pause for just a moment this week, take a deep breath…then step forward.

A Funny Thing Happened…

…on my way to the flash mob.  For those unacquainted with flash mobs, they are groups of people in public places who appear to be going about their normal business, then suddenly break into a prepared action — often, and in the case of the story I am telling, choreographed dancing.

It was the last week of classes, which on college campuses typically means we’ve reached the crescendo of stress and anxiety for the semester.  Our programming staff, for this reason, plans a week of stress-busting activities.  My friend Tricia needed a quick replacement for pet therapy (a popular annual program) due to last minute difficulties.  We brainstormed, and came up with the idea of doing a flash mob.  Tricia enlisted a diverse group of students, faculty and staff who, led by three of our amazing international students, would surprise the campus with a seemingly spontaneous dance during lunch on Thursday.  No way was I going to miss it because, as you all know, I’ve gotta dance!

At noon on Thursday, we met in the private fitness classroom to practice our dance prior to the performance.  I was having a great deal of fun until a jump/spin ended in pain so severe I thought I would pass out.  My left knee, which has been bothering me for several weeks, just had it.  But I really didn’t want to miss the flash mob, so I hobbled through it, hiding in the very back row because I could only do the arm movements.  There is a cell phone video of the dance at (if you have not already clicked on the link on my facebook page).

Thursday afternoon and Friday were spent either limping painfully wherever I needed to go or with my leg up, icing.  (Never having had this kind of injury before, I had no idea how good icing something could feel, by the way.) I tried not to be a baby about it, and failed miserably.  By Friday afternoon, I just wanted to go home and feel sorry for myself, nurse my wound with more ice, and obsess over how this would derail my fitness efforts. 

Saturday, I had a sauna scheduled at Sisters Health Club.  As I have shared before, the far infra-red sauna is my happy place, and a good 30-minute session of sweating profusely while reading O Magazine beckoned to me in my despair.  When I arrived at the club, co-owner and trainer, Kylie Helgens asked me how I was doing.  I told her about my injury and promptly burst into tears.  I believe my next words were, “I miss my endorphins”, followed by a description of my fear that this would mean a real setback to both my fitness and weightloss efforts.  If you live in Cedar Rapids and need a place to work out, you really need to check into Sisters.  The women there, Kylie and Mary Beth Helgens, all the staff, and the members are the most positive, affirming and supportive people you could ever meet.  I am grateful every day for their encouragement and cheer — by the time I left on Saturday, I had a plan of action, my fears were assuaged, and I had rededicated myself to a positive outlook. 

I wish I hadn’t injured my knee.  However, as silly as the flash mob may seem, I wouldn’t go back and change my mind about participating.  When I finally see the doctor (on June 4, earliest appointment I could get) we’ll figure out what comes next on that front. In the meantime, I made a New Year’s resolution in 2009 that I intend to go on keeping:  to choose people and doing over being alone and fearful.  When you do this, sometimes you get hurt.  But the hurt is nowhere near as deep as the happiness that comes from actually living your life.  And sometimes, no matter what, you just gotta dance!


 the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for; also : an instance of this

Serendipity is one of my favorite words, and has been since long before the movie starring John Cusack was filmed.  Since the ’70s, in fact, when  I learned it at a meeting of my ecumenical youth group in high school (thanks to Dave, Randy, Bill and Chuck, the college guys who led the group).

There have been many instances of serendipity in my life and I am always happy to share stories of these moments and experiences because their impact has, invariably, been important.  The hunger challenge, completed on Easter Sunday, was one such experience.  The impacts on my life have been documented in this blog, and I won’t bore you with a lengthy recap.  But hang on to that idea of serendipity for a moment, while I make a slight detour.

Yesterday, I met with the staff of Horizons and Meals on Wheels in order to deliver the donation collected from the hunger challenge sponsors.  If you check out the Horizons website you’ll see an article and photo documenting the event.  I was THRILLED to be delivering $1,756.00 to Meals on Wheels.  Many people have asked what my original goal was for the donation, and I honestly answered that I hoped for $800 and thought if we hit $1000 that would be pretty cool.  The only thing missing from the true pleasure of handing over the funds yesterday was that I was alone when making the delivery — I would have loved for the sponsors to be there, representing the unified effort it took to reach and exceed our goals!

As I left Horizons, I was a little emotional.  The entire hunger challenge experience was so much more life-changing for me than I could have envisioned when I had the original idea to do it.  Easter was a bittersweet day: I wasn’t sure I was ready for that leg of my life journey to come to a close.  But in recent weeks, as the checks came in and so many friends (old and new) celebrated the journey with me, my perspsective began to shift.

And here’s the serendipitous part:  I had a lot of expectations for the 18-week challenge, but personal happiness wasn’t one of them.  I don’t mean that I didn’t expect to feel good at the completion of the challenge.  I mean, I didn’t expect to feel deeply happy and at peace in my heart.  I didn’t realize that I was opening the door to a truce with my past, yet this truce and the healing it has brought have substantially changed my outlook.

As I continue my personal journey, I am more ready than ever to make progress toward becoming the person I want to be, and creating the life I want to live.  And I am able to be deeply grateful for the ongoing effects of the challenge, rather than sad that it has come to a close.  Who knows what the future holds?  I feel certain, though, that further experiences of serendipity lie ahead!

The Deep End

I have been re-reading a wonderful book by Parker Palmer titled, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.  In describing himself, he says (among other things), “…less gifted at slipping slowly into a subject than at jumping into the deep end to see if I can swim”.  I was amused as I read this line because it so accurately describes my approach to new ideas and topics.  And I was suddenly gifted with a memory, courtesy of the swimming metaphor.

We were visiting my Uncle Joe and his family in Louisville.  I have no idea how old I was – between 5 and 10 years of age.  Joe’s family belonged to a club, and we had gone to swim in the pool.  I had never been in the deep end of a pool on my own, only holding tightly to a parent.  But that afternoon, I knew I wanted to go in by myself.  I bided my time, keeping an eye on my parents, and saw my opportunity.  Just then, Joe looked me in the eye, and nodded.  I knew he was fully aware of what I was up to, and with his complicity – I jumped!

Here is the part of that memory that bowled me over today, as I thought of it:  even now, I can feel that water, the buoyancy of it, holding me up.  I did not feel like I would sink — in fact, I felt like the water was exerting pressure upwards, waiting for me to figure out how to move across its surface.  And I did figure it out.  

Like most children without benefit of formal lessons, I discovered the dog-paddle first.  Eventually, I learned how to tread water as well as the classic strokes.  To this day, treading water, eyes closed and face up to the sun, may be my favorite water-based activity.  I love to use as little energy and motion as possible to keep my head above the water line.  I think this hearkens back to that recognition that the element of water will help me if I cooperate with it rather than fight it.

If I cooperate with it, instead of fight it.  This thought brings me back to the concept of vocation.  Parker Palmer says that, in struggling to find his right livelihood one of the things he learned about vocation “is how one’s values can do battle with one’s heart.”  In my life, I’ve tended to fight this battle over the values of “security” and “comfort”.  There is nothing wrong with these values.  However, my heart resonates to a different vibration.  Instead of security my heart longs for the vulnerability of openness, creative tension rather than comfort.  And it is on this level that vocation is to be found.  If I cooperate with the urge to become who I was born to be, vocation is what will hold me up and allow me to propel myself forward.

Hidden in the memory of my first dip in the deep end is another little gem.  That day, I discovered confidence in my ability to take physical risks.  I later jumped off both the low and high diving boards.  My Dad and Uncle Joe encouraged me to keep trying new things, and were vociferous in their belief that I could succeed.  As I strive to incorporate the idea that “risk taker” is part of who I was born to be, along with “educator” and “word lover”, I have a ready-made cheering squad. All I have to do is remember.

Silver and Gold

This week has been one of reconnecting with the past, and forging relationships in the present.  When you are young, you think your friends will always be your friends, that you will be the same person moving through time on a continuous and straight trajectory.

Then life happens.

Your hopes and dreams change, your livelihood changes, you change.  And the people you count on, spend time with, love, change too.  Sometimes, the people who come into our lives are meant to also leave our lives once their role in our growth has been fulfilled (or our role in theirs).  Others we lose to pride, envy, greed, indifference, unresolved issues.  These are the losses that can weigh on our hearts.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reconnecting with some old friends with whom I parted under such circumstances.  For years, I’ve thought sadly of these people, wishing we were still part of one anothers’ lives.  I’ve felt guilty, because in most of these cases, I was the one who stopped calling or writing.  However, even though I regretted these losses, as I felt less confident in myself due to my weight and to the dips in self-esteem stemming from my inability to get a grip on my life, I lacked the heart to make overtures of reconciliation.

What I am surprised by is the generosity of friends who welcome us back into their lives after years of silence. What I am humbled by is the capacity of the human heart to go on feeling friendship and love over gulfs of time. 

Since November, I have learned so much about friendship from those of you who have supported my journey.  Many people make up the chain of connection that allows me to feel confident stepping beyond my comfort zone, and who help me create the person I am striving to be.

As I bring old friends into my current circle, I feel a sense of wholeness I haven’t felt for a long time.  I am reminded of that lovely song I learned in childhood, at Girl Scout Day Camp, Eagle Point Park, Dubuque, Iowa:

                   Make new friends, but keep the old.  One is silver and the other gold.

Perfect analogy, because friends, both old and new, enrich our lives beyond measure!