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.

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