Missing Comma

I need to write this morning. I need to purge myself of the feeling with which I woke — the nebulous hopelessness, the vague sense of being doomed, the knowledge that Satan is alive and well and thoroughly enjoying himself by stirring up memories better left forgotten.

He tried to camouflage what he was doing with concerns about the immediate future. When I moved to California, I thought I’d be OK for a month or two financially. I’d paid my bills for July and for part of August, and expected to have much of the security deposit I placed on my apartment returned. In addition, I expected to have a portion of the rent for August refunded, because I moved out early and a new tenant moved in shortly thereafter. But, I haven’t received a check and repeated efforts to contact the gal from whom I rented the apartment were finally answered with a terse message that I’d left extensive and widespread damage — an assessment I knew wasn’t true. Requests for more specific information have gone unanswered. I woke this morning worried about auto insurance and credit card payments that are quickly becoming past due.

All the hope I had experienced just two days ago had dissipated. What if I can’t find a job? How am I going to pay my bills? What if Sara and Brodie get fed up with helping me? Slowly, another voice began to whisper. A future of hope. Healthy growth. Trust. God’s voice. His promises. OK, I thought and picked up my journal. I need to write.

As soon as I opened my journal to the first blank page, I knew the truth. How I felt had nothing to do with money — nothing has changed since Tuesday — and everything to do with the past, a past I did not choose but with which I have lived for my entire adult life. A basement apartment. Sleeping in the twin bed in my corner of the bedroom. Two guys I didn’t know wandering down from a party upstairs. First one and then the other. My sheets bloody from the violation. Months of my life I still don’t remember.

I should have guessed this would happen, this weakening of the inner armor I’ve pieced together over time to shield me from these memories. I’ve been listening to an audio book when I paint in the morning — HELL AND HIGH WATER by Joy Castro. The narrator is a reporter assigned to do a story about registered sex offenders who have fallen off the grid in post-Katrina New Orleans. It’s full of stories and facts about sexual violence again women and children. And well written. I found myself picking it up when folding laundry, unloading the dishwasher and making myself lunch. I finished it last night, knitting into the darkness after Sara and Brodie went to bed. I needed to know how her story ended, because I suspected the narrator had been sexually molested herself. I needed to know she was OK. Even if she was fictional.

Knowing the source of my anxiety didn’t ease it, though. I picked up a book of poetry I found while packing — [RISKING EVERYTHING] edited by Roger Housden. As has become my habit, I opened it at random until a poem captured my attention — “O Taste and See” by Denise Levertov. I was stymied by the second stanza: “the subway Bible poster said,/meaning The Lord, meaning/if anything all that lives/to the imagination’s tongue.”

In reading poetry, I usually follow the author’s cues — use line breaks and punctuation for pauses. But, if I read the third line without pausing — “if anything all that lives” — it made no sense. It needed a comma, a pause, to make sense — “if anything, all that lives.” Then the whole poem unfolded with its richness, with its hope. We’re to allow the deaths in our lives to be transformed. “crossing the street, plum, quince,/living in the orchard and being/hungry, and plucking/the fruit,” the poem concludes.

Being hungry and plucking the fruit.

But first, we have to cross the street. And I have, I need to tell myself this morning. I have crossed the street. I worked with a therapist to create a modicum of order out of the chaos resulting from that experience, abuse in my family home and my mother’s death. I returned to the faith which had been torn from me by that act, which I couldn’t confess and barred me from receiving the Eucharist. And while my life is not what it might have been, I’ve done some good work from time to time and — I like to think — I was a good mother.

I have crossed over, even if I am currently unemployed. I have crossed over, even if I have bills to pay. I have crossed over, even if I am once again the victim of another of life’s injustices. I have crossed over.

And the sweet juicy fruit for which I hunger is well within my reach: hugs and kisses from precious granddaughters, encouragement and support from both of my daughters, my son-in-law’s patience, my brothers’ advice, morning prayer, time at the easel creating beauty, friendships. Love in all its many guises.

Love. The fruit which comes from God’s hands. For me to pluck.

Deja vu

I shouldn’t have started sharing. I know better. At least, I lived in Pierre long enough that I should have known better.

Today I decided I needed to get out of the house. Online applications are well and good, but — I decided — a little face-to-face contact couldn’t hurt. And, there were a couple jobs that interested me more than the others.

I got up, kissed my grandgirls goodbye, and got ready for my grand adventure. Driving in California still intimidates me a little (gross understatement), and I’m not sure of the protocol for seeking employment here. Most of the listings for the positions for which I have applied specifically state the applicant is not to call, indicate the employer will call if the applicant is selected for an interview. Since, according to Sara, there are hundreds of applicants for every opening around here, I suppose that makes sense. But, I’m not good at selling myself on paper, so I’m a little uncomfortable with that arrangement. My rationale for the person-to-person contacts? What do I have to lose?

All things considered, I think they went well. One individual in charge of hiring thanked me for being persistent, and indicated she’s looking for someone with my skills. She’s going to look for my online application. I am hopeful.

I was delighted to discover the other business was just blocks from the Catholic church I have been attending. With the right start time, I might be able to attend Mass during the week. It was also within walking distance of a small lake surrounded by a park strewn with benches. And populated with ducks and geese.

Home, I sighed, when I discovered the park after stopping at the business (a newspaper). I grabbed my sack lunch from the truck and walked down to a shaded bench to eat. It didn’t take long for a couple feathered beggars to inquire whether I was sharing. I threw each part of a cracker (I hope that doesn’t violate any ordinances here) and the next thing I knew they had company.

The same thing used to happen in Pierre when I took stale bread to Capital Lake or the causeway on the Missouri River. Oddly enough, that’s exactly what this place feels like. I’m not sure how the folks here, in sunny California, would feel were they to learn their community feels like a town out in the middle of nowhere in South Dakota. Perhaps they wouldn’t mind if they knew how much I loved it there.

And I did. I moved there expecting to stay only a year. The place had no art center and no bookstore (at the time). But I fell in love with the river and the people there. When I found myself unemployed after an aborted attempt at nonprofit management, it broke my heart to move. If I had to do it over, I’d go to work at Walmart or a convenience store rather than leave for a newspaper job.

Life doesn’t give us do-overs, though. As Robert Frost wrote in “The Road Not Taken,” way leads to way. We can’t go back. We can only learn from our experiences and move forward.

Pierre led to Watertown where I struggled with depression for nine long months. Leaving Pierre was hard; losing my dad less than a month later was hard; losing a dear friend unexpectedly just a couple months after that was hard. Too, I lived in an earth-banked house that had no windows; I need sunlight and wilted under the perpetual gloom of artificial light.

Watertown led to Lake Preston, where I enjoyed living in a small house with sun-drenched rooms, appreciated the warm blanket of small town friendliness, and was reminded how pettiness grows in the Petri dish of malice when there aren’t enough people to dilute the impact. One person, I discovered there, is all it takes to make life hell in a small town.

Lake Preston led to Custer where I delighted in a church community that understood the importance of fellowship. I encountered some small town pettiness there, too, but more than anything, I witnessed how great the needs were. I could do little to address them, but I did try to be a friend whenever I could. Maybe it helped.

And now I’m in California, sitting by a small lake, and wondering if the comfortable familiarity of this place, the sense of déjà vu I experienced when I found it, might be a sign that I am in the right place at this juncture in my life. You can’t go home again, but maybe you can find a new home that is equally satisfying.

I hope so.

Healthy Growth

It’s like this: I believe God pruned me so my life could bear fruit.

I should probably say “bear fruit again,” because my life hasn’t always been like a vineyard overgrown with unproductive, scraggly growth. There have been some decent harvests over the years; even I can see this. I managed to graduate from college — no small feat considering how unstable my personal life was at that juncture. Without a degree in art, or even a teeny, tiny minor tacked on to my bachelor’s degree in English, I managed to establish myself as one of South Dakota’s emerging artists back in the 1990s. When I embarked on a career in journalism, I began winning awards within the first year, and continued to do so right up to the end.

But, somewhere along the line, I stopped dreaming and setting goals and working to create a better life for myself and for others whose lives intersected with mine. I shouldn’t phrase it that way. I know exactly what happened and I know exactly when it happened.

It began when I felt called to religious life. The vocations director said to me: “I see no evidence in your life of a call to service.” At the time, I was working two jobs, and only took time off to attend vocations retreats. I was tackling my debt because debt is a barrier to entering religious life, and I wanted to remove that barrier. While I didn’t know the logistics of formation, I certainly knew the experience of rebirth and hope in my life were indications that God was calling me to spend my life publicly serving him.

I’d always been more of a don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is doing (cf. Matt. 6:3-4) good Samaritan (cf. Luke 10:29-37). When I was a young welfare mom, I discovered other single parents were going to spend the Christmas holiday alone, and invited them and their children to my small apartment for Christmas dinner. When I was selling Avon products, I met a young recovering drug addict in an abusive relationship and began inviting her over to have coffee with me periodically; eventually, she gained confidence in herself, got her GED, left the abusive boyfriend and earned a college degree. When I moved off the rez after teaching there for a year, I started dreaming about another teacher; when I called to see if she was OK, I learned she had lost her job and invited her to stay with my daughters and I until she decided what to do.

In other words, if I saw a need, I reached out to help. No, I wasn’t involved in any great service organizations. I had been too busy supporting my family and building my art career to tackle anything else. However, as my youngest was preparing for her high school graduation, I experienced in the transition an opportunity for a new life, a different life. It did not occur to me that the religious order which attracted me might question something which was so unequivocally clear to me. I was stunned when the vocations director did so.

Even after I withdrew from formation, a painful decision which I grieved for years, her comment haunted me. No evidence of a call to serve. I jumped into a prison ministry. I began to teach religious education. I began to lead workshops and retreats on journal writing and prayer. It didn’t seem like enough, though, because the words remained. No evidence of a call to serve.

Eventually, a job opportunity arose which would require great personal sacrifice. I would have to give up a profession I loved, one at which I was very good, but in doing so, I would be helping abused and neglected children. I made the only choice I could make in light of what I knew at that point in my life; I took a position for which I was ill-suited even though doing so gave me a knot in the pit of my stomach. That was the decision which led to this moment, to this painful pruning.

Years later, I would read in a book called GOD’S VOICE WITHIN: THE IGNATIAN WAY TO DISCOVER GOD’S WILL, by Mark E. Thibodeaux, S.J., something which explained why that decision was wrong for me. “God has a particular calling for each person,” he wrote, “we are not called to do every holy action that comes to mind or to respond to every good opportunity.” By the time I’d stumbled across this book and this passage, the art career which I’d worked so diligently to build had lain dormant for more than a decade and the newspaper career which had brought me so much recognition was over as well. I realized I was faced with a difficult situation. I’d made a wrong turn at a pivotal juncture and was lost — lost professionally, lost personally, and, I was beginning to realize, a little lost spiritually as well. I had no idea what to do.

What was my particular calling? How could I discern it? And even if I knew what to do, what was the likelihood doors would open that would enable me to live out my calling in the small South Dakota community I called home? I felt trapped. I had created a life that was nothing but scraggly growth. I was working at a convenience store — getting up in the morning to pray and to paint (an activity I resumed after taking a prayerful painting retreat), going to work (where I stood for hours on end, serving customers, often without even a short break to go to the bathroom), and going home so physically exhausted eating seemed like too much trouble. Occasionally, if I heard of a job in the area that interested me, I would apply, but for the most part I was just marking time and I knew it.

Then, suddenly, my life began to spin out of control. I found myself crying at work uncontrollably. I found myself shaking with frustration because an employee expected me to leave the office with more than $6,000 in cash sitting on the desk so she could have a cigarette break. Suddenly my mind began to skim through all of the challenges I’d faced in recent weeks and the pattern that emerged was intolerable. I could not continue working in a place where I was treated consistently with such contempt and disrespect. On impulse, with no plan for the future, I walked away.

Why I believe God was pruning me in that impulsive decision, I do not know, except that I know my life had ceased to bear fruit. Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in my that does not bear fruit, and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit” (John 15:1-2). Somehow, I cannot believe that God gave me the gifts that he gave me without expecting a harvest of some sort.

What that harvest will be, I do not know. Not yet. But I somehow think — or perhaps only hope — I will find the answer in the gifts that God gave me. It may take time to break the scraggly-growth habits which have taken root in recent years, but with God’s grace, I have to believe, it can — and will — happen.

Routine and Flexibility

I confess, I’m a creature of habit. I like having a daily routine. I’m not exactly a slave to any routine I establish. It’s just that routine provides structure, a motif I can embellish.

And that is the challenge of living in limbo, in that place between jobs. Apart from sitting behind a computer for hours on end, wading through lists of job openings and completing on-line applications, what am I supposed to do with myself? How am I supposed to know when I get to the end of the day that it was a well-lived day.

That’s important to me, living each day well. Once upon a time, I was focused on the future, on getting an education and starting a professional career. Then, I ran smack dab up against a reality check. I had two children in elementary school, was working full-time and trying to complete a Master’s degree when my gynecologist used the “C” word during a consultation. My menstrual cycle had gone wacky, but I thought a few fancy pills would solve the problem. I wasn’t prepared for anything more serious; I was wrong.

I knew how quickly cancer could decimate not only the person whose body became the battleground between abnormal cell growth and modern medicine, but also that person’s whole family. My mother went into the hospital shortly after I started my senior year in high school and died less than three months later. The experience shattered our family and created in my life a void I tried to fill for nearly a decade with behaviors that were unintentionally self-destructive.

I wasn’t ready to revisit that kind of tragedy. I wasn’t ready to introduce my children to that kind of tragedy. I did not intend to leave my children motherless. Period. Non-negotiable.

For a year, I battled the condition my gynecologist warned was a precursor to cancer. He had recommended surgery, a hysterectomy, but I was a single parent with neither family nor friends to care for my children while I was hospitalized and recovering from surgery. I asked if I had any other options, and he outlined an experimental approach. I opted for that.

Medication intensified hormonal mood swings to the point that I was suicidal during the low points. My gynecologist brought in another specialist — a psychiatrist — to deal with that side effect. More medication was prescribed. Through it all, I had to continue supporting my family and provide my children with a modicum of stability at home. The medication and responsibity and uncertainty tied me in knots. I turned to the counselor who had supported and guided me when I had left an abusive marriage a decade earlier, and she helped me once again to traverse a difficult passage in life.

Eventually, the gynecologist was satisfied with the test results and treatment ceased, but during that long year, I had to decide what was important and focus on that. I didn’t have the energy to deal with more, but I also didn’t want to waste any of the time I had left. I knew that if the therapy I had chosen didn’t work, I could still have a hysterectomy, but I also knew that by the time we recognized the need, the cancer could have spread.

The Master’s degree fell by the wayside. If I died, I did not want my children to remember — if they remembered anything at all — a mother who was too busy to spend time with them.

The dreams of a professional career fell by the wayside, too. Growing up in an abusive home. Losing my mother when I was young. Being sexually violated on more than one occasion. Being so confused about relationships I couldn’t tell the difference between a good man and a jackass. Cancer. It was too much for one person to bear.

So, I shifted the measure of my life. Instead of striving for dreams, I was going too strive to live each day well. Instead of sacrificing the present in order to achieve a future goal, I was going to make choices that resulted in rich days. And while I can’t say I’ve been entirely successful in living within the paradigm I choose for myself — I’m by nature a workaholic — I think on the whole I’ve lived a good life.

I somehow managed not to botch parenting too badly; both of my daughters have grown into young women I can appreciate and admire. I have managed to develop a few skills — like painting and scrapbooking — that have provided me with enormous personal satisfaction. My spiritual life has deepened with each passing year so that now I can live authentically only by living the gospels. And, every so often, God has given me a glimpse of the way in which he has used me to help someone else on their journey, and that has been a special blessing, a gift of grace.

But, now I’m embarking on a new phase in my life. It’s so new, I’m a little disoriented. I have tried to bring some normalcy to it by establishing a few routines. In the morning, I shower, kiss my daughter and grandgirls good-bye, and then spend some time in prayer. After this, I paint for about an hour, sometimes an hour and a half, before sitting down behind the computer by 10 a.m. to find jobs in the area which interest me and for which I’m qualified. Late in the afternoon, after putting in several applications, I put it all away so I can enjoy a little family time with my daughter’s family.

But, sometimes I have to be flexible. Today, I edited an article for a friend before starting my search and my grandgirls arrived home early with my son-in-law. Oddly enough, this variation in the pattern of my life feels good.

Maybe that’s enough right now — that I have brought my penchant for organizing things to the uncertainty of the situation by establishing an arbitrary routine, but that, when necessary, I can let go and flow with the currents of life. Yes, maybe that’s enough. But, that being said, a job would be nice!

True Self

St. Anthony received a strange request this morning — from me.

For those who don’t know, who aren’t Catholic, St. Anthony of Padua was a Portuguese priest born at the end of the 12th Century. Inspired by the example of five Franciscan martyrs in Morocco, he sought to go there, but ended up, as a result of a storm at sea and of illness, in Italy. Several years and adventures later, he was called upon to preach at an ordination, which indirectly led to an encounter with St. Francis of Assisi, who had founded the Franciscans. St. Francis entrusted him with training young men seeking ordination. St. Anthony’s life, obviously, was richer and more full than that, but this is not intended to be a full biography of the beloved saint. Rather, I just want to provide a cursory introduction to explain my prayer at Mass this morning.

For some odd reason, St. Anthony is the one Catholics — who are notorious among other Christians for seeking the intercesson of those we believe are God’s friends — call upon for assistance in finding lost items. There’s even a catchy little prayer often used: “Tony, Tony, turn around. Something’s lost and must be found.” I didn’t use it.

Having relocated to California, primarily to be near my granddaughters though a dearth of jobs in South Dakota which actually pay a living wage was also a contributing factor, I decided to risk the roads this morning. I located the closest Catholic church, asked an app on my smart phone to get me there, and left for Mass 30 minutes early. Surprisingly, the app was correct; it only took me 13 minutes. As I sat in the historic structure, with its arches soaring overhead, my eyes were drawn to a stained glass window of St. Anthony. Without consciously deciding to do so, I found myself asking St. Anthony to help me find my true self.

I have to admit the idea of the true self was foreign to me when I stumbled across it by accident while looking for a book by James Martin, S.J., to read. I’d just finished MY LIFE WITH SAINTS, and was impressed with Father Martin’s style. He used his spiritual journey as a teaching tool, blending anecdote with information. BECOMING WHO YOU ARE: INSIGHTS ON THE TRUE SELF FROM THOMAS MERTON AND OTHER SAINTS appealed to me for two reasons. First, what I know of Thomas Merton and his writing impressed me enormously. Second, I was feeling dissatisfied in my life and kept thinking, “There’s got to be something more than this.”

I knew that Merton was an influential figure in Father Martin’s life. As a young man with a degree and career in business, he had felt his life had no real meaning. Channel surfing one night, he ended up watching a documentary on public television about Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk whose writing continues to inspire more than 40 years after his untimely death. Before long, inspired by Merton, Father Martin was abandoning the life he’d worked to build and embarking upon an entirely different path; he entered the Society of Jesus and was eventually ordained to the priesthood. I suspected that if anyone could provide a bit of guidance on finding the “true self,” it would be a man who had himself embarked upon such a journey.

Unfortunately, at this point, the book is packed among others in a storage unit as I seek employment and a place of my own. I can’t quote any of the inspiring passages, but I do remember the book’s impact on me as though I had read it yesterday instead of five years ago. For the first time, I began to consider the possibility that in using the gifts God gave me, I was actually serving him. Because I tend, by nature, to be rather literal, I had been stuck in a rut — believing that only by doing what was specifically mentioned in Scripture could I serve God. That tended to limit my options and made me feel, at times, a little schizophrenic. I did, after all, have bills to pay.

The whole idea that maybe God gave me the desire to to create art, and a modicum of talent, because he wanted me to be an artist was radical. I can’t say I abandoned all and started painting with the (unrealistic) expectation of supporting myself in that way. Rather, the idea simmered in my unconscious for several years. Then, on impulse, I signed up for a prayerful painting retreat and suddenly, I was on fire. I needed to paint. I could not abandon the activity. I painted even when I was bone weary from standing on my feet for hours on end at a convenience store. I painted right up until the morning I packed the final odds and ends in preparation for my move to California. I painted this morning after Mass, pulling canvas and supplies out of a tote packed for convenient access.

An odd thing has happened as I’ve become more comfortable with claiming the artist within. I’ve also begun to feel more at home with the idea that I might have other gifts, and that by using those gifts, I might also be serving God. I am actually hoping that using those gifts may provide me with a living wage, and that’s really what I was asking St. Anthony this morning, for assistance in finding a job that uses gifts God gave me. I can’t imagine what it will be, but coming so far without taking the step which will take me beyond what I’ve known is equally unimaginable. At the same time, stepping out of my comfort zone will be a challenge. I’ll need all the help I can get.

And so, on impulse, I turned to a friend with an odd request. Somehow, I feel hopeful that with the twists and turns of his own life, St. Anthony will recognize the pattern in mine and help me find my way so that with each day I will come closer to knowing, embracing and living my true self, one that was — now that I think of it, created in God’s image.

Circles

“Choice is the holy-making stuff of life. There is no such thing as the inconsequential. Everything we do affects something and someone. Choice, therefore, is a spiritual skill of great import.” Sr. Joan Chittister, FOLLOWING THE PATH: THE SEARCH FOR A LIFE OF PASSION, PURPOSE AND JOY

My thoughts are a jumbled mess this morning.

Brodie and I are heading west on Interstate Highway 80. We left Salt Lake City this morning about 7, after breakfasting at the hotel. By nightfall, we will be home. The hugs of two-year-olds (and their mom) will greet us. Right now, though, we’re driving through a desolate area. The salt flats about which I’ve read, I wonder. I’d ask Brodie, but he’s listening to an audiobook and I don’t want to bother him.

Instead, I allow my thoughts to float among memories and the morass of patterns I’ve glimpsed in recent days. Peg Schneller’s smile. The first time I heard Paige and Avery’s hearts beat. Signing up for design class with Signe Stuart. All of them part of the mysterious, awesome pattern of circles within circles that is God’s gift of life to me.

I moved into Custer, South Dakota, on a Monday and packed a truck to leave on a Monday. Peg was the first person in Custer to welcome me into the community, and her grandson Matt was among those to help as I embarked upon another new beginning. In them, in the way their lives intersected mine, my experience in a place Native Americans considered sacred, until gold and beauty of the place attracted outsiders, had come full circle.

There, I lived a two-year spiritual retreat of profound significance. There I experienced healing so I could embrace life rather than endure it as a hair shirt in penance for mistakes I made when I was young. There, in a dynamic parish family through whom the Holy Spirit delights in working, I came to experience the balm and support of community. There I learned to appreciate and use with both joy and humility the gifts God gave me. There I was anointed. There I received instruction in preparation for entering the promised land.

Preparation for what promised land? I’m not entirely certain, but other circles — that of family, that of art — provide hints.

I loved being a mom. I loved the miracle of life growing within me, the moment of discovery when I held each of my daughters for the first time, the on-going miracle of life as they grew into the beautiful women they are today, and the challenge of giving them roots without clipping their wings as they grew. Jobs provided income with which to support my family, but being a mom was my life’s work.

I was lost when my girls left home, adrift, searching for something to give life meaning. Religious life? No. A new career direction? No. What, then, what shall I do?

The first time I heard my granddaughters’ beating hearts, there sparked within me a flame of creativity that had not warmed me in years. I wrote a poem. I painted a plate. I designed and assembled a scrapbook. I felt alive again, eager again, ready again to share the miracle of life — first just the sound of beating hearts and then the sweetness of little fingers which would grow into hands that held mine as we walked together.

Yes! Another circle — beginning to beginning — new life to new life — love to love again. And now, I’m to be more than the occasional visitor. I’m to be part of their lives. Three years of earnest prayer answered.

But God in his infinite wisdom knows we need more than relationships, sweet as they are, and love, life-giving as it is. We need meaningful work, and he has reminded me in recent months of a gift he has given me — the desire to create visual images, to paint, to be an artist.

I was not one of those people who could draw anything at a young age — I’m still not. I have simply been fascinated by visual images all my life. In elementary school, I never did anything good enough to be posted on the bulletin board in the hall. In high school, no one seemed to think much of my occasional efforts to draw a portrait.

In college, I decided on impulse to take a design class and was fortunate enough to study under Signe Stuart. I not only learned principles of composition, but also found, for the first time in my life, someone who encouraged the artist hidden behind the fear and feelings of inadequacy. I took a couple drawing classes, a color theory class and a painting class, and then painted for years, developing my skills and style, until my work was good enough to exhibit and sell.

I never actually made the decision to quit painting. After my girls left home, in my search for purpose, I just took jobs that consumed so much of me, nothing remained for creative endeavors. But my spiritual journey created the crack in my life that allowed art to re-enter, a prayerful painting retreat at which we drew leaves, just as my classmates and I had drawn them in Signe’s class.

Another circle. I suppose it’s not surprising my paintings these days include circles. I see them all over the place. In my spiritual life. In my family. In my avocation. The only part of my life that hasn’t yet come full circle is teaching, the only job that excited my imagination and gave me a sense of purpose. Maybe I need to see if California needs English teachers.

Perhaps that will be my promised land. It’s hard to say, but I do know this. Whatever it is I do, I know it will be holy-making stuff, because God has shown me exactly how good he is. Praise him from whom blessings flow over us and through our lives.