As the sun begins to set

The-setting-sun-1I write as the sun is setting. More noted because the sun was visible today! We have had much rain and snow during these past few weeks. The blue sky is turning dark but not before it gives small rainbows to the clouds, revealing colors bright against the winter sky.

Saturday evening has always been a time of preparation. The Sunday schedule for a priest is packed with details often unexpected. Having those things you “think you can control” in place before Sunday morning can be crucial! Things such as locating copies of bulletins, having sermon complete and where it can be found, checking the hymns posted on the boards in the sanctuary. Like preparing for guests in our home, this is a time of preparation to greet the people who will enter the red doors on early Sabbath morning. Perhaps to help with balance or to feel in control, whatever the reason, that last walk-through the sanctuary often brought moments of gratitude and quiet peace.

My Saturday evenings are very different now. Retired, I often find myself a bit unsettled as this day’s sun begins to set. Old habits are hard to break especially when they are an important part of one’s spiritual journey. As life changes so does living and adapting to this change takes time. Finding a way to express one’s vocation as a retired priest, takes discipline and a sense of ‘being-in-place’. The weeks move ahead toward the date marking my first year in Asheville and these mountains. Roots have barely taken, yet my sense of place and home, is certainly more heartfelt.

As I settle into this home and community, I find myself longing for a sanctuary. The past holds my practice and foundation. Opportunities for creativity and growth are before me. Short on patience, I eagerly look to the future and gratefully rely on the past.

The prayer below is meant for the closing of the day. Within, it offers words of comfort and challenge for any time of transition. May it inspire each reader in your own spirit’s journey.(found at Sacred Space )

In God’s loving presence I unwind the past day,

starting from now and looking back,

moment by moment.

I gather in all the goodness and light,

in gratitude.

I attend to the shadows and what they say to me,

seeking healing, courage, forgiveness.

Letting go…

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These words ring familiar to my ears on this evening. Be it large life decisions or the plans of one day, I find that what I expect seldom matches the outcome.

When reading Joseph Campbell’s quote, familiar phrases may come to us: “let go, and let God.” or “the best laid plans of mice and men.” Phrases that speak to the plans we think are together and ready to execute. When we are up and preparing to go – we discover our direction becomes the opposite of our original course.

Big life changes are like this. Who knew that at the end of my last job I would be looking at retirement? Certainly not me! I was on a certain path filled with expectations. These type of changes in the course one’s life call for soul-searching. Re-direction is never easy. On a small or large-scale it can fill us with frustration and create anxiety about what life will really look like. Re-direction often means change requiring patience and trust.

Joseph Campbell speaks to this clearly and to the point. The frustration, oh – it comes from being human– when the plans we’ve made do not work out the way we expect there is a need to hold on tight. But as I read this quote from Campbell, I realize “The life that is waiting” might very well offer less stress and more grace. It is hard to argue when things work out better than you ever imagined!

So I’m thinking about life changes this evening. There’s little we can do except be open. Open to what the new direction has to offer. Letting go is never easy. There will always be grief from a sense of loss. But the joy that can be found might just make one wonder why you fought to hold those other plans for so long. To be given the opportunity to live in a way that brings hope and creativity is a true gift. A gift never to be taken for granted.

When I begin to lose my humor or feel frustration – I remind myself of this quote from Campbell. What lies ahead may not always be what was planned but isn’t that part of life’s adventure?

To Be Whole…

I know this child. I was she. With few role models to begin the journey, I faced my own mirror and saw a ‘dancer’.

There was no textbook for how family could raise a disabled child with confidence and opportunity. In the late 50s and early 60s few families had the support of established organizations nor were encouraged to meet with one another to share their struggles and successes.

Blessed as a child I knew few limits. My memory takes me to friendships and fun. My memory takes me to travel, family, school and all things that nurture the imagination of a child. The limits that were obvious became challenges (puzzles) to solve. The world was before me and all I wanted to do was move through it with the spirit’s music and rhythm. There were plenty of times when I needed that music to cushion and calm. Every child has to face the hard edges of growing up. These edges were particularly unique for me (as they are for any child growing up with a disability) – I entered the world of medicine, doctors and surgery at a very young age. Recovery from multiple surgeries was hard but to go without I could not have moved forward. So, there was never a question – recovery it was. With encouragement and love from parents and friends, I made my way through those young years and into an adult life filled with opportunity.

“Dancing” takes on many forms and the steps change throughout a lifetime. Ordained an Episcopal priest, I have the honor to lead the steps in faith’s dance, through the grace offered by God’s spirit. Now retired, I am testing the next steps in this dance. Again, the textbooks are few for what the road ahead should look like, which is a good thing because my style would most likely challenge any expectation. As many readers know, I have recently moved. Along with settling in a new home, I am meeting new doctors and other practitioners on a regular basis. To my surprise, there have been several moments when I have been thrown back to hard edges of my childhood. While recently meeting with a new physician, I made mention of how grateful I was to be so ‘healthy’. Her response – ‘yes, you have few immediate health problems which is good. You are in pretty good shape to be so ‘broken’. ‘Broken‘ – a word I have never thought of when describing myself. I may be able to understand her intent but the word used was hurtful.

That same confidence that carried me through childhood, the confidence that knew few limits, is still ever-present – ready to redefine and move ahead with the dance that is before me. I take these new steps grateful that I know the difference between being healthy and being whole. Like the image of this tiny dancer — it is not about seeing the broken – if that is all we see than we miss the beauty before us. She has all she needs.

I know that child, I am she.

a bigger bowl…

After a full week of focusing on so many details to help with my move, I said ‘see you later'(never say goodbye) to people who had given every bit of their energy and strength to unpack, arrange my things and offer their emotional support. I miss them terribly but know that their time with me had to end. They have returned to their own homes and I have begun the process of making this new place – my home.

It has been a long time since I have moved to a new town. I think about all of the people who I met along the way while living in Greenville NC for 20 years. They helped shape who I am today and I know they will always be a part of me. Even though we are far from one another, we will stay connected – that is the way of friendships.

Tonight I write as Lilly sleeps next to me. No kennel will confine her right now. She is by my side with an alert eye to the changes around us. We belong to one another and in a place filled with new faces and routines, this bond brings comfort and strength.

The stress of establishing ourselves is evident. Lilly always loses her appetite when there is change of any kind. I feel easily overwhelmed as I meet incoming assistants and begin training for my care. I feel easily overwhelmed as I continue to look for pieces of my life still packed or stacked in undiscovered places throughout my apartment. I pray for patience as this transition takes place at a pace set by the length of each day and the schedule of those who are with me to help.

Through it all I am grateful for the support and structure of the community around me. This retirement community is beautiful – out every window there is a view of trees and mountains. The food is great and I am never alone – but I have moved into a retirement community. At the age of 54 this was not what I anticipated.

This was, and still is, a big decision. Each day I talk myself through moments of challenge and, in turn, give thanks for the chance to make such a move. This community has welcomed both Lilly and I. Even though the work of resettling can only be done by me, I know it would have been more challenging without the support and resources available in this place.

Why the fishbowl? The image speaks to my feelings. Like that fish, my leap to make this move is a stretch and risky. The new bowl is larger and full of possibilities. Taking this leap has been an act of faith. An act of faith filled with unanswered questions and unexpected feelings.

And tomorrow is a new day…

By my side…

For nine years I have greeted each day with my companion, Lilly, by my side. Trained to be an assist dog, she has retrieved multiple objects dropped or out of my reach – from pens to book, from coat hangers to telephones – Lilly has heard the call for these and many other items and made her way from floor to my lap or arms, her attention focused on where I am and my care.

These days Lilly seldom leaves my sight. Her intuition is sharp – she knows we are in another time of transition. Boxes have begun to appear, and as before, she knows that means change is in the air. It is no secret to friends and family, from the beginning my retirement has filled me with mixed emotions. There are moments in a day when I have to stop – to regroup – to grieve. Overwhelmed with the change and the current preparation to move, I decided long ago – when I needed a “crying break” I would take it.

A few days ago it was time for one of those ‘breaks’. With all of the resources she could find, Lilly tended to my sadness. From cleaning my hands to putting her head in my lap, she tried everything to ‘settle’ me. Finally after a whimper or two of her own, she went to the door and barked. As my assistant entered, Lilly led her to me and stood by my side. She watched – when I began to calm she stretched out beside me with a sigh.

 As I continue to re-adjust to my newer limitations, Lilly carries hope. She brings delight in each day and maintains a routine that helps me refocus when I am feeling most scattered.  With only a few weeks before she and I move to a new home, she reminds me time and again that I am not alone.  She will remain by my side waiting to nudge me when ‘we’ need a break from the work of  sorting and packing.  She knows to keep track of the important things –  a walk in the fresh air or the evening game of ball – after all, (she says with her wise and playful eyes) life is an adventure and so much lies ahead for us. Her presence in my life remains a delight, bringing comfort when no words need be spoken.  

I end this day in gratitude for my companion, Lilly.

Crossing a bridge to a new path…


I have been wanting to write for several weeks. Each time I began to write, my attention was redirected to distractions and details. Good intentions are often just that – but that is not how this season will pass for me.

This image of a bridge speaks to this time of my life. I face a time of significant changes. Looking across to the other side, I see the beginning of the path but have little knowledge of what will be “around the bend”. I did not expect to retire at 54 but my plans did not match the journey that is before me. Retirement comes for medical reasons – time to slow my pace and pay attention to what will enrich the quality of my life.

So this is about changes and choices — changes always bring possibilities. As I write tonight, I am preparing for a move. A move to the mountains where I hope to find nurture and inspiration. For support and safety, I have chosen to move into a retirement community. Barely ‘of age’ (the youngest age for entrance is 55) – I knew this was a good choice for me. It was a big decision. One that was not easy and often still hard to talk about. I dare say — many people my age who live with a disability have thoughts and concerns about what this decision might mean and if it is in their own future.

In the weeks to come I will write about this time of transition — the easy moments and the moments more difficult. I will welcome and be grateful for reflections and thoughts from anyone reading… 

“Seasons change and so do I…” (a re-post)

To friends and readers this post was entered with a portion missing from the quoted poem, Edge of September. In respect for the poet, Jeanie Tomasko, and to complete the original reflection, I have discarded last night’s work and now re-post what was originally intended. Thank you for your patience!

“Seasons change and so do I…” – a line from the song, “No Time”, written and sung by THE WHO. It was a song that proudly played from my dorm room window on speakers cranked loud enough to reach two other dorms and a field used for tag football and sun bathing. That was when ‘serious’ studying was set aside. It was too difficult to resist the call of Boulder’s Colorado sun. When I hear this song I can swiftly return to that time in my life – formative and filled with possibilities.
On October 1, I will have been retired four months. While reflecting on my own changes, I found myself singing this line from “No Time”. It was the thought of seasons that brought the words to mind. There is no surprise that one reflects on the changing seasons now. The days are getting shorter. I read in yesterday’s weather report — today the sun would set two minutes and twenty-three seconds earlier. It does not take a written report to know that summer is waning. Evenings are cooler – the trees are beginning to show highlights of gold and red in their leaves. I have always enjoyed “transition seasons”.  These seasons seem to act as a bridge between winter’s cold and the breathless heat of summer.
This fall I am particularly aware of how life can reflect the nature of seasons. In the heat of this past summer, my new life in retirement felt uncomfortable, still too bright for me to find focus. As in other times of change in my life, I continued to be grateful for God’s grace in each day’s rhythm. Too tired and distracted with details, I would have been unable to tend to the sun’s rising and setting.
Now, I seem to welcome these early days of fall. With four months of retirement behind me, I sense the beginning of a pattern to my days — the words rest and relax feel less foreign. These early days of fall remind me that all of creation knows the stress and creative energy found in times of transition. With gratitude, I welcome fall as I prepare to receive its guidance and calming pace.

Edge of September

Again this year it comes:
the shift in the wind
that certain slant of sun
the sudden red of sumac.
Out at the lake
birdsong is less urgent,
the young can feed themselves.
In a few days
something like light
will tug on wings.
I am at home with
the downside of summer.
I take stock of the woodpile.
Night comes earlier. The space
between cricket chirps, longer.
I’ve stopped coloring my hair.

My husband fingers the gray
as if learning a tenderness.

Jeanie Tomasko