When you least expect it. . .

April 8, 2010

My nephew Jason is now in his thirties.  When he was a small boy, he delighted in pelting me with snowballs.  His aim was great, he rarely missed, and I soon recognized that where snowballs were concerned this mere child surpassed me by a mile.  My solution was this:  I would simply respond, “One day, Jason, when you least expect it . . .” On occasion I would remind him of my promise and once sent him a virtual snowball thanks to my computer.  Yet I never really delivered.  Last summer while attending Jason’s wedding I considered having the bartender shave up some ice, rolling it into a ball and letting Jason have it right there in front of God and everybody.  But I didn’t.  Instead when a private moment presented itself, I told him of my plan.  He smiled, nodded, and said, “That would have been good.”  Point made for the aunty in the style of counting coup.

And there is something about events that occur with the impact of an unexpected snowball that opens up the earth and like Alice in Wonderland we are falling down the rabbit hole.  Next thing you know, we are in a completely different frame of reference, often asking how we got there and stunned at what is going on.  I’m sure you have plenty of examples of this in your own life just I have in mine.   It may be a business opportunity, a subpoena, the receipt of a most perfect gift – each one arriving with no advance warning and seeming to come out of nowhere.   We then find ourselves having to reframe everything on the spot.  It’s as though Alice’s White Rabbit is tapping his watch and prodding, “Oh, my ears and whiskers, how late it’s getting!”  We’re talking about real change, real fast.

Trust me that saying, “It’s all good!” just doesn’t cut it.  At least it doesn’t for me.  Some of what is unfolding seems exquisitely wonderful and it takes my breath away.  Other things seem just plain painful and hard to bear and that takes my breath away, too.  So I have to remind myself to breathe.  I really do.  I have to take time to stop, reflect, and breathe.  And then breathe some more.  And when I do that I can sense a centering within me and a connection to deeper resources.  It is from that place I can begin to move into right action rather than be in reaction.  And sometimes I discover that no action is called for and I am directed into being fully present with things just as they are.  Quite often that is the most challenging thing for me to do.

So today I invite you to take time to stop, reflect, and breathe.  Whatever is happening today, please remember to breathe.  I’d love to hear from you on this topic.  And I promise if Jason ever gets nailed with a snowball thrown by yours truly, I will let you know.

in Love and Service,




There’s No Place Like Home

January 5, 2010

I’ve been noticing some interesting post-holiday behavior. My sense of it is there’s a discontentment in the air.  For example I was at my favorite restaurant Isabella Café here in Tinley Park last Saturday evening.  Two out of three parties asked for a different table after they were seated.  One party asked for a third table and considered asking for a fourth, but sensibilities prevailed and they settled in.  I assure you these figures are accurate because I was filling in for my good friend Sue and I was doing the seating and re-seating.  From my view there was absolutely nothing wrong with any of the tables.  Yet here it was – a vague yet palpable sense of things being not quite right.

I noticed it at Macy’s, too.  I received fabulous purple crocs from my niece Julie and her family (thank you!) and exchanged them for a larger size.  While waiting my turn I could hear several other exchanges – not because things didn’t fit or were the wrong color.  I repeatedly heard, “It’s just not right.”  And while we’ve all received something sometime that wasn’t quite right for us, this seemed to be an epidemic.  Let’s face it one of the great benefits of the economic downturn is that we’re all much more careful with our money.  As a result holiday gifts were chosen with great care.  And to have so many be “just not right” tells me that something deeper is going on.  We have an itch that didn’t get scratched even with all of the richness of the winter holidays.

Then I was reorganizing my desk and came upon this:  “All things have a home:  the bird has a nest, the fox has a hole, the bee has a hive.  A soul without prayer is a soul without a home. . . .  Continuity, permanence, intimacy, authenticity, earnestness are its attributes.  For the soul, home is where prayer is. . . ” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

At this point it occurred to me that like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, we may well be looking for our home and not yet having found it we’re unsettled, discontent.  And thanks to Rabbi Heschel, it may be that the home we’re searching for is one that is satisfying to the soul.  I believe we’ve found “home” for ourselves physically, emotionally, and intellectually.  Now it’s time to get about the business of doing the same for our souls.  And like any individual journey, each one is unique and so I cannot offer a final resolution to this.  I am, however, suggesting that we begin the inquiry into this facet of ourselves called soul.

So at the start of this new year/new decade let’s  begin this new quest.  And please let me hear from you on how this is going.  All together now, “There’s no place like home.  There’s no place like home.”

in Love and Service,



The Gift of an Iron Fairy

December 18, 2009

Yesterday I visited my hairdresser Lisa to get spruced up for the holidays.  As I settled into her chair she smiled her signature smile and said, “Here.  This is for you.”  She then presented me with a gift bag and in it was an iron fairy.  Turns out the fairy is named Emma, she has the wings of a bee and is seated with her arms wrapped around her knees.  Then Lisa said, “She reminds me of you.”  And once more I appreciated Lisa’s brilliance in areas far beyond color and cut.

This fairy symbolizes all of us under the influence of this past year. 2009 has been a real doozy, hasn’t it?  And from time to time I have felt as fragile and vulnerable as a tiny fairy.  Resources and relationships that we thought we could rely on have shifted or even vanished.  In response we’ve gotten creative and networked like never before.  We’ve learned that we are stronger and sturdier than we realized.  We’ve faced situations that have demanded we develop courage and stamina.  And while we have faltered on occasion and  are still facing great challenges, we have come through it all.  We have become iron fairies.

I remember watching Mary Martin in Peter Pan when I was a child.  There is that scary scene when Tinker Bell is dying and to save her we were asked to clap our hands.  I remember clapping like crazy.  And sure enough, she revived and continued being the bright light that she is.  I hope you have felt me clapping for you this past year.  Let me tell you, I have felt you clapping for me and I am so very grateful for it. 

And so as we go into the Season of Light, I wish you a wonderful holiday and a miraculous 2010.

in Love and Service,



Trick and Treat

October 31, 2009

That’s right.  There isn’t a typo in the title.  It’s Trick and Treat.  Here’s why.

While today is Halloween, yesterday found me making my way into the city to purchase some gift items.  I called the day before and Melanie helped me.  She agreed to have things ready for pick up when I arrived in the morning.  And, yes, she would be there.  So the adventure began.

The day promised to be rainy so I slipped into my purpley-pink rain clogs, grabbed my tote bag and headed for the Metra train station a few blocks away.   Once there the rain began.  I reached into my tote.  No umbrella.  I forgot it and there was no time to run home.  Standing nearby was a young woman who also had no umbrella.  We made quite a pair giving each other that look of “Do you believe this?  I can’t believe this.”  Next thing a man with an umbrella walked up to us and without a word he moved in and offered us shelter.  We three huddled together waiting for the train and struck up a fine conversation that was not about the weather.  This was a kind and thoughtful man.  And it occurred to me that there is something about rain that dissolves the edges of our illusion that we are separate from each other.  Let’s face it, when we’re in the rain, we all begin to look very much alike in no time at all and we require less personal space than we do when the sun is shining.  Getting rained on, it turns out, is a valuable experience.

Once I arrived in the city, the rain had stopped and I walked north on State Street.  You know what’s next.  When I got to the store, Melanie had not yet clocked in and no other person could find my order.  Heaven knows those men tried with no luck.   I was told Melanie was scheduled to arrive in about half an hour and so I decided to check out the rest of the store.  It was then I noticed the red, white, and silver decorations for the winter holiday season.  I swear this is true.  And you Chicago people now know I was at the State Street (used to be) Marshall Fields.

Then my cell phone rang and it was my darling goddaughter-niece Julie.  Julie became a mother for the first time last month.  As we chatted I could hear the cooing of baby Tyson.  How delightful.  Not only was I having a lovely conversation, I was also listening to the sweet sounds of the first child of the next generation for my family.  While it briefly occurred to me to ask Julie to put Tyson on the phone, I realized that Tyson was already on the phone.  I could hear him just fine and I could talk with his mother.  I didn’t have to choose just one.  I could have both.

Melanie arrived as the call was ending and I approached the sales desk.  She was apologetic and quickly gathered my items including a few nice complimentary things for my inconvenience.  I thanked her.  Yes, I was inconvenienced and I had a wonderful time looking at the decorations and talking with Julie.  Now I know some folks who would see cause and effect in this situation.  They would say that Melanie was late so that I could have the experience that I did.  And yet for me it is important to hold difficult life experiences with the same value and reverence that I have for the more pleasant ones.  It’s a slippery slope to suggest that because we’ve experienced something difficult, we can expect something beneficial to follow.  First of all, it doesn’t always happen that way.  And more importantly, we then continue to label things as “good” or “bad” and get fixated at one point or another rather than be present for all of life however it shows up.

With parcels in hand I walked back toward the LaSalle Street Metra station.  I stopped at my favorite deli to order a sandwich for the ride home.  It was there I met the most courageous man I have encountered in some time.  The young man who took my order and made my meal did not speak much English at all.  Yet here he was, working hard during the lunch rush.  He struggled to understand what I wanted, kept checking back with me and we worked our way through the process.  He was dealing with hungry people who are in a hurry – a notoriously surly bunch.  Yet he hung in there and he kept at it.  Add to that he was pleasant to every customer although not every customer returned the favor.  And it turned out, he makes a wicked, awesome sandwich.  So here, too, is the co-existence of difficulty and delight.  Not one or the other.  Both.

So I offer this reflection to you.  Should you find yourself tempted to settle for the Land of Either/Or, perhaps you might consider broader vistas and travel to the Land of Both-And.  It is in that spirit that I wish you a magical Halloween.  Happy Trick and Treat, everybody!

My thanks to the directees who inspired this topic –

in Love and Service,



Strolling along with Luna and St. Teresa

October 15, 2009

This morning I was strolling my dog Luna around the neighborhood when St. Teresa of Avila popped into my head.  No kidding.  And then I realized that today was her feast day and I figured I’d go with it.  First let me set the scene.  When I say I was strolling Luna I mean she was in a dog stroller and I was pushing it.  You got the picture.  Luna’s anatomy is a recipe for disaster and since we’ve come up from a long stretch of dealing with pain and muscle relaxers, I decided a stroller was the best way for her to check out her hood, see her friends, and elevate her mood.  My job, of course, is to navigate this thing.   It may be that your eyes are rolling about now.  That’s pretty much what I get from some observers.  Enter St. Teresa.

In St. Teresa’s work she explored how our fear of being humiliated limits our choices and prevents us from following our interior guidance.  In my view humiliation has a kissing cousin named Embarrassment.  Humiliation is great, big, huge for me.  Embarrassment not so much though it’s still a major player in a more subtle way.  So here I am strolling Luna and catching those looks, each of which is an invitation to feel embarrassed if I’m willing to go there.  Where Luna is concerned I am not because I love her like crazy.  And yet often I feel drawn to take action in situations where I don’t have that strong heart connection.  Or I find that my investment in a relationship is so high that I’m vulnerable beyond description.   And so it’s easy for me to tell myself that I am confused and don’t understand what I am being directed to do.  Truth is I’m deceiving myself with that line.  Really I’m more afraid of embarrassment, or worse, humiliation and that awareness is actually not too far beneath the surface.  That’s the truth and that’s where the real work is.

According to St. Teresa our fear of humiliation is something we don’t tackle once and consider it done.  In my experience it is a relentless issue that has more tricks than a circus dog.  And when I try to push it away, that’s when it completely overtakes me.  Keeping this on my radar has become part of my regular personal inventory and even so I find myself blindsided from time to time.  I imagine the same is true in your life.

So I’m grateful to St. Teresa for dropping in early today.  This afternoon Luna and I will be strolling to Our Lady of Perpetual Help gift store.  I think we should get a small statue of St. Teresa for the stroller.  That will really give folks something to talk about.  I think I can hear St. Teresa laughing.

in Love and Service,



Bailey Sue: Fire Dog Extraordinaire

October 12, 2009

Bailey Sue left planet earth today.  Rather, it was her body that left planet earth.  Bailey has been doing the Hokey Pokey for the last several weeks and today she made her exit strategy clear.   Bailey had the great good fortune and wisdom of finding her way to my amazing friend Noreen who has tended her with open heart from day one.  I know of no other relationship that has spoken so much of love and devotion as theirs.  And so today marks a passing that shakes me in a way that from time to time finds me not only inconsolable, it finds me joyful beyond description.  Love, after all,  is eternal.  And so is joy.  Love and joy — that was Bailey Sue.

Thank you, Bailey.  You were the best rule maker, rule keeper, let’s play, why are you holding back?, where’s the party?, go for it girl I ever did know.  You will be in my heart forever, and I am so grateful for all of it.

in Love and Service,

(Aunt) Lorena


The Gospel According to Walter

September 11, 2009

I moved to Chicago in wintertime and that fact alone alerted my neighbors as to my relative cluelessness.  Being good Midwesterners, they rallied around me with plenty of advice hoping I would survive to see spring and they could avoid the stigma of my frosty demise.

Walter introduced himself by offering techniques I needed when falling on the ice.  I noticed he said “when falling” not “if”.  Walter himself had developed an advanced skill set.  In addition to bending his knees and rolling onto his back, Walter also positioned his hand to cover his right eye – the eye he lost in combat during World War II.  As he explained, replacement eyes are expensive, a lesson he learned falling on the ice many years before.  My imagining of that scene was both hysterically funny and it made me queasy.  That’s how it is with Walter.  It’s complicated.

Since that meeting Walter has rarely missed any of his twice daily walks around the neighborhood.  The morning round finds him collecting some of the newspapers the carrier has tossed on the sidewalk.  He then brings them to the front door of that house.  As wives become widows, Walter adds their homes to his delivery route.  Men, on the other hand, are on their own.  You can rely on Walter’s dependability more than most things, including the guy who drives through our neighborhood and tosses The Trib from his van onto the sidewalks.  If that fellow’s aim is off, if he’s later than 7am, or (God forbid!) if he forgets a house, Walter is on it and will offer passionate commentary on the infraction for days.

Walter’s afternoon round is more leisurely as he observes each house and yard and stops to converse with the occupant.  That person will be given the benefit of Walter’s full assessment as he spills out what needs tending and what new work does not pass muster.  Last year I painted my front steps blue, a brighter choice than the original grey.  Walter cautioned me not to get too carried away and I knew by his tone that I had already crossed way over his line.  He reminded me that day why my generation needed therapy and I felt grateful to have gotten some.

Two years ago Walter was late for his morning round and I noticed he was knocking on doors and speaking to each neighbor.  He knocked on my door, too, and had come to tell me his wife had passed away during the night.  He wanted to be sure we all knew and so here he was, doing this most difficult thing after spending the night saying goodbye to his wife of over sixty years.  I was moved by his strength and devotion particularly since he was quite frail and exhausted.  A few days following the funeral, Walter returned to my house to ask my advice about being widowed.  I was floored.  What could I possibly tell this man who had been married for over sixty years?  Even today I can’t begin to imagine the extent of that loss.  But that day we talked about how surprising it is that hearts keep beating after they have been shattered.   Somehow we still find ourselves alive and yet not at all the same as we once were.  We were speaking of the uncharted territory that each of us begins to travel following any great loss.  And though we must travel it as individuals, we may find along the way other travelers who understand that journey.  And bless them when we do.

As I write this it is almost autumn and with a summer of wonderful weather behind us, Walter’s afternoon rounds find him carrying bags of tomatoes to offer.  He is proud of the two varieties, one being a surprise since he picked up and planted the wrong plant.  Nevertheless he is pleased with his accidental success and is quick to point out that this great find has come from a mistake.  Imagine that.  And often these days when Walter approaches my house he barks like a dog.  That’s right.  And, yes, my dogs Luna and Sophie bark back in response.  Walter then beams.  He even beams on days when he’s not wearing his hearing aids.  Seems to me he’s happy to cut loose whether he hears the girls return his calls or not.

So here’s to Walter who is still Walter and who is different at the same time.

in Love and Service,



The Great Squirrel Caper

September 9, 2009

Now that I’ve settled down and my heart rate has recovered from OMG!!! status, let me share this morning’s excitement.

My dog Sophie is a girly-girl pekapoo with a real appetite for fashion accessories like colorful collars and bows.  She weighs only 13 lbs. and has a delicate bite as she ever so gently takes treats from the hand as if to ask, “May I?” Today, however, another side of Sophie showed up.  She went into the back yard for a potty break.  Instead she made a break for the great oak tree, jumped high and snatched a squirrel off the bark.  The squirrel screamed and so did I.  Sophie had him by the throat and when I yelled, “Drop it!”  She did.  And when I yelled, “Into the house!” she returned to the back door.  I was as surprised by her obedience as I was that she caught a squirrel in the first place. 

Not to leave you in suspense the squirrel was breathing heavily at first, collapsed on the grass, and then on his own returned to his nest in the big tree.

Unbelievable.  Unbelievable how a being as gentle and soft as Sophie can shift into hunter/killer mode without missing a beat.  Unbelievable how a squirrel who taunted her earlier this morning was foolish enough to have another go at it.  Unbelievable how life can turn on a dime, isn’t it?  One minute things are smooth as can be; the next pandemonium has broken out.  And in the same spirit, one moment may find us in panic and chaos; and the next we can drop into serenity and peace.

When I was a young Brownie Scout we were taught to expect the unexpected.  I suppose this could be an invitation to develop an anxiety disorder.  For me, though, it is a reminder that anything is possible and that unknown blessings may well be on their way.

Wishing you a fine day from Sophie, the squirrel, and me.

in Love and Service,


Moving Through Hard Times With Grace

August 31, 2009

I have practiced yoga and Pilates for years.  Those practices have supported my health and allowed the physical integration of my spiritual practice.  Yet they have done something that today is equally important.  They have allowed me to sleep somewhat comfortably on the floor next to my dogs Luna and Sophie whenever they are ill or injured.  And since I am once more on the floor at night with Luna (whose back has gone out — again) something has occurred to me.  What we are going through globally with economic crises, health care nightmares, and everything else we thought was secure being rocked to its core — well, it’s the equivalent of having to sleep on the floor until who knows when.  And I realized, too, that most of us have prepared for this experience for years.  We have gotten therapy, studied sacred texts, explored human potential programs, studied with important teachers and gurus.  We thought we were improving ourselves and growing, and we were.  Yet we were also preparing for this time on the planet.

Hence this blog. 

 I plan to share my experiences and promise to keep it real with no esoteric gobbledygook or fluffy bunny platitudes.  And I’ll keep it balanced without doom and gloom mongering.  I will share whatever ah-ha’s come along the way and ask that you do the same.  In doing so I trust we will find the gems hiding in the back of this cave.   

OK then.  Here we go.