Tag Archive | personal retreat

Salty Cookies, Burnt Cereal, and Learning Curves

 

My mom worked in Madison during most of my growing up years.  She compensated for not being around home to supervise me as much as she would like by suggesting projects for me to do by myself, especially during the summer.

One project was learning to bake cookies. One of the first times I baked cookies all by myself, I must have misread “teaspoon” and “tablespoon.” I made some very salty oatmeal raisin cookies. Another time I forgot to take all the cereal boxes and crackers that were stored in the oven out of the oven before I preheated it. When I smelled smoke and saw a black cloud drifting out of the stove, I ran to the barn to get my dad. Together we ran back to the house. He put on thick work gloves, and pulled all the hot black smoldering boxes out of the oven. Fortunately, there were no flames.  Then my dad went back to the barn and I went back to mixing up the cookie dough. I was able to bake the cookies just fine in the well-preheated oven. When my mom got home from work, she was a little surprised at all the damage I had done by simply baking a batch of cookies, but she was pleased that I had run to get my dad before doing even more damage. She was also pleased that I had finished making the cookies. At least we had some good fresh homemade chocolate chip cookies to eat, even if we no longer had any cereal and crackers. There was a learning curve for baking cookies, but I mastered the skill well before I was in high school.

Over the years, I’ve learned that there is a learning curve for just about everything I’ve learned to do – from riding a bike to driving a car, from playing the piano for Sunday School to playing the organ for church, from designing a brochure to building a website. As a general rule, regardless of how good I may think my first effort is, the second time I do something is always better. That’s the learning curve.

The learning curve I’m currently mastering is writing and publishing a book. I’ve been writing a book about hospitality for a couple years. I’m very excited about this book. It’s based on the experiences Mim and I have had in being hospitable. We have welcomed literally thousands of people into our home – some as friends and family, others as bed and breakfast guests, assisted living residents, and seekers on spiritual retreat. The Bible says a lot about hospitality, and we’ve learned a lot about hospitality in our life experiences. The purpose of the book is to put all that knowledge together into a coherent message about the importance of hospitality in our lives.

Last year, as my book on hospitality was beginning to take shape, it suddenly dawned on me that I’m at the beginning of a new learning curve – the one for publishing a book. I decided I should try to gain some experience along this new learning curve before I actually publish my book on hospitality. The message of this book is very important to me. I want it to be the best book I can possibly make it. That means it shouldn’t be the first book I publish. The absolute law of learning curves has convinced me of that.

So, what should I publish as my first book?  I want it to be something good even if it is the first project along this learning curve. I quickly realized that there was an obvious answer to what should be my first book. I’d already written most of it. I’ve been writing a blog post every Monday for the past couple years. I have nearly a hundred reflections written. The theme that’s common to most of these reflections is finding messages from God in everyday life.

With the help of a friend, I selected 52 of our favorite reflections – one a week for a year for anyone who wants to read them at the same pace as the readers who have followed the blog.  I grouped the reflections around common topics like VALUES, PRAYER, MUSIC, JAIL, and a few other topics, to accommodate readers who would prefer to read a whole section of the book in one sitting. I tried to edit the reflections so that they flow smoothly from one to the next. Finally, I added a title and subtitle – Listening for God:  52 Reflections on Everyday Life. Currently, the same friend who helped me select the reflections is doing a final edit of the book for me. She hopes to complete her editing this week.

While she’s doing that, I’m deciding which independent publisher to choose to publish the book. Should I go with the independent division of a major publisher in the Christian book market, like Thomas Nelson or Guideposts? Or, should I take a more do-it-yourself route and do almost everything, except the actual printing of the books, by myself?, I went to a couple publishing seminars at the University of Wisconsin this past summer to help me make this decision. I’m learning all kinds of things about publishing – book cover design, interior page layout, e-book formatting, distribution channels, ISBN numbers, US copyright registration, and lots more. This is a fun learning curve to be on!

This week I hope to decide on the publisher and email my book to them. In two or three months, my first book will be published – a paperback of about 200 pages and an e-book for people who prefer to read books on their Kindles and Nooks.

I’m moving along the learning curve. Soon I’ll be able to get serious again about completing the first draft of my hospitality book. I’ve already set aside the second week in November for a week-long writing retreat at Christmas Mountain. I want to complete my first draft of this, my second book, while the publisher is finalizing and publishing my first book. Then I can study all the mistakes I made at the beginning of this learning curve, so that I don’t repeat them in publishing my second book. Anyway, that’s my plan. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

I’m sure there’s still a lot for me to learn along this latest learning curve, but I think I can safely say I won’t burn the cereal and crackers again. Each learning curve is filled with new adventures.

God Sent a Deer to Remind Me

As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
[Psalm 42:1 NRSV]

A young deer was cautiously watching me as I stood at my copier making a few copies of some music to put in my organ binder for Sunday’s church service. I spied her as I looked through the patio door while I waited for the copies to print. Slowly and quietly I pulled my camera out of my desk drawer, slid open the patio door, took about ten steps toward the pond, and snapped the picture. One picture is all I got before the deer decided to flee into the cover of the woods behind her. I hope she was able to get her drink of water first. I hope she feels safe enough to come back for more drinks whenever she’s thirsty.

Seeing the deer beside the pond in my back yard immediately brought to mind the Psalm that begins – “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.”

Throughout the month of September, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the noisy and busy world we live in. “The Monastic Way” pamphlet written by Joan Chittister has been prompting me to think about these things, especially about how important it is to live my life intentionally rather than just going along with whatever happens. How important it is to take time to examine my life and to think about what I’m doing with the time that I have. It was Socrates who said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

The pond and woods outside my office, next to Whispering Winds.

It’s important to think about my life and how my daily activities are forming that life, but in order to do that self-examination in our busy, noisy world, it’s necessary to find some way to be where it is quiet, a place where we can take the time to meditate, away from the noise and distractions. Chittister quoted Hans Margolius as saying, “Only in quiet waters do things mirror themselves undistorted. Only in a quiet mind is adequate perception of the world.”

Is it really possible to quiet our minds in today’s fast-paced, noisy world? “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.” We seem to have a natural thirst for quiet time together with God, “to see the world undistorted,” “to examine our lives,” and to think about the life God has called us to live.

Some days we may be able to set aside just a few minutes of quiet time with our thoughts and with God. Other times, perhaps, we can schedule more time, maybe even a whole day, or even several days to ponder our lives and focus our attention on drawing closer to God, on understanding our purpose in life.

Music is something that helps me quiet my soul for prayer and meditation. Here are links to four YouTube music videos that just might be a good start for some quiet meditation today.

AS THE DEER http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZv3jzOTE70&feature=related (with lyrics)

AS THE DEER http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wzWWggsOJI (piano only with wonderful pictures)

TAKE TIME TO BE HOLY http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zut3rCzk6bw (Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but with less commonly used tune for this hymn)

TAKE TIME TO BE HOLY http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMlsifnlQN8  (Instrumental version with original tune. Lyrics shown over scenic pictures.)

Great Expectations for this week – 7 of them!

For several weeks now, a friend of mine has been posting a list of three things she’s thankful for each day. Usually the lists are just that – three words or short phrases in a simple list format – just a quick statement of things she’s particularly thankful for that day. That practice got me thinking in lists. Today I made a list of some “Great Expectations” I have for this week. There are seven items on my list. I’m not nearly as concise as my friend, but here’s my list of “Great Expectations for this Week.”

  1. An inspiring and productive Writers Week at Whispering Winds. This week has been designated on our retreat calendar as “Retreat for Writers.” Several writers will be coming to Whispering Winds for a day or two to write, to be away from their distractions at home and to focus their energy entirely on writing. I expect each writer to have a wonderfully inspiring and productive time here.
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  2. Safe travel for weekend guests. This coming weekend a couple guests are coming to Cambridge for the wedding of a friend. One is coming from the east coast. The other is coming from Europe. I trust each guest will have safe travels, joyful celebrations with their friends, and a relaxing and refreshing time at Whispering Winds.
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  3. A good time of reflection at the women’s worship service at the county jail.  Reading Scripture, giving testimonies, singing hymns, and praying together with the chaplain and several inmates is a truly special time of sharing deep thoughts and feelings with each other and with God. I always look forward to playing the piano for these services and being invited to participate with the group in their sharing activities.
  4. Playing the pipe organ at Messiah

    Finding just the right organ music for next Sunday’s church service. As a church organist, I usually try to find a prelude and postlude, and sometimes other special music, that reinforces the main theme of the Scripture for that day. As I study the lectionary readings for Sunday, and flip through the pages of organ arrangements, I trust that just the right music will jump out at me. Almost always, that’s what happens. Sometimes the process takes an hour. Sometimes most of a day. My expectation is that the prelude will help people get in the right mindset for the message of the day, and that the postlude will help people remember what God is saying to them through the Scriptures, the sermon, and the hymns.
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  5. My brand new great-great-nephew and his mom will go home from the hospital early this week. Ethan is the 2-day-old son of Christina and Josh. Christina is the daughter of my nephew Terry and his wife, Eng (originally from Cambodia). Terry is the oldest son of my sister, Nancy, and her husband, Clark. Family connections are wonderful – especially the longer they get. Just think of all the people who are rejoicing over the birth of Ethan – literally all around the world – because of how we all are connected.
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    Marian’s grandfather plowing with horses.

  6. A smooth implementation of all the changes I just made on our website. Lots of new pictures. More information about the thread of hospitality that can be traced from the beginnings in 1908 when my grandparents bought the farm, through all the uses of the farm in the 104 years since then. Ending with some conjecture about how the farmhouse will be used next… Here’s a direct link to the new Past & Future section, http://whisperingwindsretreathaven.com/pastfuture.html.
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  7. That this blog post will prompt readers to ponder and be thankful for their own expectations for this week.

To-Do Lists

One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important. [Bertrand Russell]

We all like to think our work is important – whether the work is what we do on our job or what we do at home. Many of us have so many important tasks to accomplish that we create to-do lists to be sure we don’t forget anything. Worse yet, if the list is so long we know we’ll never get everything done, we prioritize the list so that we can at least try to accomplish the most important things.

My mom taught me how to make to-do lists by the time I learned to write. Every Saturday morning after breakfast the two of us made a list of everything we had to do that day, and we decided which one of us would do each task. The lists usually included vacuuming, dusting, cleaning the bathroom, cutting flowers (if it was summertime), baking cookies, and so on. By the end of the day, we had crossed everything off the list, and we felt a good sense of accomplishment.

Now I usually make my to-do lists on Monday mornings. What’s frustrating is that I know I won’t get everything done, so I try to prioritize. How did I get so busy? I’m self-employed, and I’m my own boss, right? I should be able to cross the unimportant things off my list. But which ones are they?

Yesterday afternoon (I try to avoid work as much as possible on Sunday) I picked up a book that Mim received for Christmas, 100 Favorite Bible Verses for Women. As I was scanning the table of contents, one entry caught my eye: “God’s To-Do List.” The verse was Proverbs 16:9, People may make plans in their minds, but the Lord decides what they will do. [New Century Version]

That prompted me to think about some of the interruptions that drop into my day, like getting a call from a friend whose business is not surviving this economy, and he just needs a listening ear for an hour. Or, sitting with a guest who wants to talk about what she’s learning during her personal retreat at Whispering Winds. Or, receiving an urgent request from Mim to watch one of our assisted living residents while she deals with another crisis. None of these things were on my to-do list, but these things suddenly become more urgent and more important than the tasks on my list.

So, what happens to my to-do list? Some of the tasks get done the next day, the next week, or never. As the list gets longer and longer, I can get more and more anxious about how busy I am, and worry about how my important work isn’t getting done; or I can try to see the list from a different perspective. Probably a better way of saying this is, I can try to see my list, my priorities, and my life from God’s perspective.

This is where finding some quiet time is crucial – whether it’s taking a walk for a few minutes or a few hours, or going away for a personal retreat for a day or two. There will always be tasks on my to-do list. But I guess God has a to-do list for me, too. Just as I used to sit with my mom on Saturday mornings to compile our to-do list, I need to spend time with God to integrate the tasks on our respective to-do lists. My top priority really needs to be spending time with God to begin to understand God’s perspective and God’s priorities. Only then will my to-do list really matter.