Tag Archive | different gifts

Dot-to-Dot Life

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Dot-to-Dot books were my absolute favorite activity books when I was a little girl – even better than coloring books – well, maybe my Red Ryder cowboy coloring book was the best of all – but other than that, dot-to-dot pages were my favorites. I could spend hours drawing lines from number to number to reveal a picture from what started out as just a mass of numbers.

mediumSunday morning I read a short paragraph from FIRSTLIGHT: The Early Inspirational Writings of Sue Monk Kidd.

During those times when I wonder what I’m going to do with my life and I’m unable to envision it, I recall a dot-to-dot picture of a giraffe – a gift from a four-year-old. The child had created the picture by moving his pencil from dot to dot, one at a time. It comforts me to know that when I can’t see the whole picture, all I really need is to see the next dot. [p. 175]

A couple weeks ago Mim and I went to my 50th high school class reunion. It was fun to talk with former classmates, to find out who is retired and who is still working, and to discover some surprises in what all of us have been doing with our lives.

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I’m in the front row, right in the middle, wearing glasses.

When we left high school, many of us had dreams of specific careers where we would spend our lives. In my case, I was going to be a chemist. Really! I changed my mind after my freshman year in college. I switched my major from chemistry to English and prepared myself to become an English teacher.

After college, I taught English for two years, and then I became an editorial researcher for The World Book Encyclopedia. The publishing business was interesting for a couple years, but then I switched again and began a new career path in business. I spent ten years working in the financial systems department of a large corporation in downtown Chicago and went to grad school evenings to get an MBA. Then I left big business and became a small business consultant, creating my own business. Then my partner Mim and I became owners of a bed and breakfast. Then I became a real estate agent. Then Mim and I turned our B&B into an assisted living business. Next we turned our farmhouse into a spiritual retreat center. Oh, and simultaneously with these “career changes” I became a church organist and a writer, publishing a weekly blog and a couple books.

So much for the idea of devoting my life to a one-track career. I really appreciate what Sue Monk Kidd said,  “It comforts me to know that when I can’t see the whole picture, all I really need is to see the next dot.” When I drew that first line from dot 1 to dot 2, I had no idea what the total picture of my life would end up looking like. In retrospect, that really didn’t matter. I just needed to live my life one dot at a time.

SKMBT_C28016070409180Joan Chittister focused on a related theme in the June issue of The Monastic Way. The 30 daily readings reflected on a quote by St. Catherine of Siena, “Be who God meant you to be and you’ll set the world on fire.”

The reflection on the first day of June boldly stated, “The purpose of life is to discover your gift. The work of life is to develop it. The meaning of life is to give your gift away.” [Chittister was quoting David Viscott, a psychiatrist.]

One of the things I learned from my own life experience, and had confirmed by the life experiences of some of my classmates at our reunion, is that God has given us many different gifts. Discovering what these gifts are is a lifelong adventure.

One of my classmates has written a book about his life story, That First Step. In the Foreword, Lee states, “There is nothing earth shattering or noble here, just a straightforward tale of a Navy Parachute Rigger who became an Air Force Master Sergeant.”

SKMBT_C28016070409240As I read the book, I learned a lot about day-to-day life in the military, about the job of a parachute rigger, and about the importance of packing a parachute just right so it definitely will open properly when the ripcord is pulled. I also learned about how Lee discovered his natural talents, his deep interests, and his amazing love for free-fall parachute jumping. Through the narrative of his story, I learned how he gradually discovered that his life was meant to be spent in the military – first in the Navy, then the Air Force. That was his life calling. Or, as he writes at the end of the book, “As I look back to those childhood days of playing soldier, maybe, just maybe, having this career was the fulfillment of my destiny.”

Lee has learned the truth of what St. Catherine of Siena said seven centuries ago, “Be who God meant you to be and you’ll set the world on fire.” Lee’s book makes it clear that he has had a very inspiring and rewarding career in the military. He has discovered his life purpose.

In The Monastic Way Joan Chittister defined “vocation” as “the call within us that tells us that we will never be really alive until we become what we are called to be… It is, Merton says, ‘the original selfhood given me at birth by God.’”

The next day Chittister added, “What we are given to work with in life is God’s gift to us. What we do with it is our gift to God.”

dot-icecream-1-coloring-pageOn the surface, my own career progression might look like I’m scribbling an abstract design on my dot-to-dot page rather than following the dots correctly. Fortunately, Sue Monk Kidd assured me that even if I can’t make out the complete picture of my life yet, all I need to see is where the next dot is. Sometimes I think I might be drawing lines with more than one pencil, but that’s okay. As long as there are more dots on my page, I’m still working on my gift to God.

Sue Monk Kidd includes the following story in her book FIRSTLIGHT:

Rabbi Joseph Liebermann told how he fell asleep one night and had a dream. In the dream he dies and goes to stand before the judgment seat of God. As he waits for God to speak, he fears that the Lord will ask him, “Why weren’t you a Moses … or a David … or a Solomon? But God surprises him. He simply asks, “Why weren’t you Rabbi Lieberman?”

When my life is over, I doubt God will ask me why I wasn’t a Mother Teresa. The question I fear most is, “Why weren’t you Sue Monk Kidd?”

The most gracious and courageous gift we can offer the world is our authenticity, our uniqueness, the expression of our true selves. [p. 176]

When my life is over, I doubt God will ask me why I wasn’t Joan Chittister or Sue Monk Kidd or J. S. Bach. I just hope God doesn’t ask me the question, “Why weren’t you Marian Korth?”

Marian w curls and cowboy hat

My earliest career aspiration was to be either a cowboy or an Indian.

The Gift of a Lifetime

Florence (Floey) Nightingale

Florence (Floey) Nightingale

Floey was sitting in the living room, in front of her house (crate), looking up at the painting on the wall.

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Floey admiring her portrait

“Mom, can you believe it? Kitty painted a portrait of me! She’s such a wonderful neighbor. I just love to go see her. She often gives me MilkBones, but I can’t believe she loves me enough to spend weeks painting my portrait.”

“You’re right, Floey. We have some pretty special neighbors.”

“Kitty is so talented. I know you gave her a couple photos of me to help her get started, but she made me look so regal. I feel like I’m the queen of the Stone Meadows Condominium Community. I guess I’m really special.”

“You are special, Floey. You have the gift of being friendly and loving to almost everyone you meet. You are the four-legged queen of the neighborhood.”

“Yeah. Except kids. I don’t always like kids. I never know what they’re going to do – pet me or poke me, pull my tail or fall on top of me… I’d rather stay away from kids. Maybe that means I’m really not all that friendly. Maybe I don’t deserve to be called ‘Queen of the Neighborhood’ after all.”

“We all have different talents, Floey. Your talent is bringing joy and love to adults, especially senior adults, like Kitty, and like all the people who live with us for assisted living. That makes you queen of the senior neighborhood. That fits the regal look Kitty painted of you.”

“I guess you’re right, Mom.”

Horses by Kitty“Kitty is very talented at painting pictures. Remember the painting of two horses in the pasture that  hangs above my desk? Kitty painted that, too. She gave it to me as a gift one day when I saw it hanging in her house and I told her how much I liked it. But you know what, Floey, Kitty says she’s not a very good painter, that she’s just an amateur.”

“Really? She’s a great painter. The portrait she painted of me shows me as a special dog. She painted me to look like the dog I want to be – regal and refined, with my front paws positioned only as a truly refined lady dog places them. That’s how I always try to sit, you know.”

“Sometimes it’s hard for us to recognize our own talents, Floey. God has given at least one talent to every one of us. Eugene Peterson paraphrased what the Bible says about God’s gifts to us this way:

Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful: wise counsel, clear understanding, simple trust, healing the sick, miraculous acts, proclamation, distinguishing between spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues. All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God. He decides who gets what, and when.  [I Corinthians 12:7-11 THE MESSAGE]

“I think it makes sense to add more examples to this list. To some people, God gives talents like painting pictures and being friendly.”

Kitty and Floey

Kitty and Floey – the best of friends

“I see what you mean, Mom. God has given Kitty the talent of painting, among other gifts, and God has given me the gift of being a good friend to lots of people in the neighborhood. How about you, Mom? Do you have any talents? Did God give you any gifts?”

“I think God gave me the gift of being able to play the organ and piano just well enough to help a congregation sing praises to God. I’m not talented enough musically to play on a concert stage, but that’s good, because if I had that much musical talent I’d have to dress up in fancy clothes and travel around to lots of big cities to perform. I wouldn’t like that. God gave me the talents that would be just right for me.”

“Hmm.” Floey looked at me thoughtfully. “I guess that makes sense. I can’t picture you in a fancy gown and high heels walking out on a stage to play a Beethoven sonata on a great big concert grand piano. But I can see you sitting on an organ bench, dressed in slacks and a sweater and wearing flat organ shoes, playing some hymns while the people sing along to worship God.”

“Isn’t it wonderful, Floey, that God has given us all such different gifts?  We’re all special, and God gave each of us just the right gifts for us to live together as a community, sharing our gifts with each other.”

“You’re right, Mom. I’m especially thankful today that God gave Kitty the gift of painting, and that she used that gift to paint a portrait of me. And I can use my gift of friendliness to let Kitty know how important she is to me and to let her know that I love her. I think that’s kind of what the Bible is saying, right? God wants us to use our gifts for the benefit of everyone. That’s why God gave us all different gifts – gifts to share with each other.”

“Right, Floey. God gave you the gift of understanding as well as the gift of friendliness.”

“I guess it’s OK that God gave the gift of liking to play with kids to other dogs instead of to me. I’m still queen of the senior neighborhood, and my portrait proves it!”

Kitty and Floey standing 1

Another Talk with My Friend Floey

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Floey

“Hey, Floey. What did you think about your new class last week?”

Floey grinned at me and replied, “I loved it! When you first told me I would be going to another class, I really wondered why. I passed my class last winter with flying colors. I couldn’t imagine why you thought I needed to go to another class. I’ve learned everything I need to know.”

I laughed a little, then said, “You’ve learned a lot in the seven months you’ve been part of our family, and that’s on top of all you learned in the first ten months of your life. But, you know, there’s always something more to learn.”

Floey sitting - profile“Boy, did I find that out in class last week! The two instructors had a little list of things we’ll learn over the six-week Intermediate Class. That’s no big deal. Although I’m not so sure I want to learn the “Go to mat” command. We’ll see about that one. At home I really need to go to the door whenever the doorbell rings to be sure it’s safe for you to let the visitor in. I need to protect you. I can’t do that if I’m sitting on a mat away from the door. But there are so many other things to learn in class besides what’s on the list. Did you see all those other dogs, Mom?”

“Yup, there were about a dozen, and they were all different kinds.”

“Most of them were about my size, or a little bigger, but there were a couple cute little white ones, and a great big German shepherd and another big dog with a hound dog face. Did you see the dog who said his mother was a dachshund but he had no idea who his father was? I bet his dad was a big, stocky beagle. He was really smart. The instructor asked him to help her demonstrate some of the things she was trying to teach us.”

“And, Floey, did you notice the dog to our left in the circle? She looked a lot like Abbey, your late sister. She was the same size and color, and her face was very similar – a very sweet dog.”

“Yeah, I did. And the dog on our right was really friendly. I liked her a lot. My goal for next week is to learn the names of all the dogs in class. And, I want to make friends with as many of them as I can.”

“That’s sounds like a good goal, as long as you learn the items listed on the curriculum, too.”

Floey-Marian faces selfie 2“Oh, Mom, that’s not the important stuff. I’ll learn that, too. But the really important stuff is to learn what I can from everyone else in class, and from all the surroundings. Do you have any idea how many things there are to sniff inside that building, and outside, too?  And during break time, I bet that German shepherd can tell me a lot about what it feels like to be the biggest, bravest dog in the world. And I’m sure the little white dogs can tell me all about the importance of having a big bark. I can hardly wait to go back to class again tonight.”

“Well, Floey, I’m so glad you like going to class and learning new things. I think I can learn a lot from your enthusiasm. And your curiosity. And your positive attitude. And your loving kindness… I’ve already learned a lot from you, Floey.”

“I guess we’re good for each other, Mom.”

“Yup, we are. I just read something about that in Joan Chittister’s pamphlet, “The Monastic Way.” On June 23 she wrote:

The relationship between humans and animals is necessary – not for the animal but for our own sense of kinship with nature and the full human development. Anatole France writes, “Until one has loved an animal a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”

“But, Mom, that says ‘animal’ not ‘dog.’ Do you think that applies to cats, and birds, and goldfish? Certainly those creatures aren’t as significant as us dogs in awakening human souls.”

Mim with kittens

Mim and her kittens – a few years back

“Oh, I don’t know, Floey. Your other Mom, Mim, didn’t really know or love any dog until your big sister Megabtye came along in 1990. Mim was already 42 years old by the time Meg came into her life.  But her soul was awakened to the wonders of God’s creation through cats when she was just a little girl. Her mother Selma had her life enriched deeply when she was 83 years old and living with us after suffering a stroke, and a tiny kitten with a broken leg crawled into her life. Dogs are a really special part of God’s creation, but so are cats.”

Love in action: Mim's mom, Selma, caring for a stray kitten that had been dropped off at the farm.

Love in action: Mim’s mom, Selma, caring for a stray kitten that had been dropped off at the farm.

“Hmm. I’ll have to think about that. Are squirrels and goldfinches good for developing our souls, too?

“Haven’t you ever watched some teenage squirrels chase each other up and down trees? They are having so much fun, I wish I could join them in the chase.”

Monastic Way 06-15“Me, too. But you always hold me back from chasing them.”

“My soul finds delight in just watching their playfulness. Yours can, too.  And just listen to goldfinches singing. They are so happy it’s contagious. I think they’re praising God with their songs.”

“I can sing, too, Mom. Ann calls it yodeling. I have a beautiful voice and a wide range.”

“Yes, you do, Floey. God gave different gifts to every being in creation. That’s why it’s so good for all of us to be friends with each other. I think that’s what Joan Chittister was talking about.”

“Well, I really like what she quoted Anatole France as saying, ‘Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”  Let me awaken your soul some more, Mom. Let’s go for a walk and watch squirrels, listen to goldfinches, and see whatever else nudges our souls.”

“Great idea! God gave us another beautiful day. Let’s enjoy it!”