Monday, January 10, 2022

Dinner at the Big Tree: A Poem





You come each day at dusk,

Silently appearing 

End-of-the-day friends. 

Under a bumpy-barked maple tree, 

Grown from a stick in the ground. 

Twenty-five years later  

Thick trunk, 

Voluminous branches and leaves.


Backing into a crevice in the tree 

Claiming your space

Place of security

Panoramic view of the yard

No surprises during dinner

Free to munch and crunch

Clicking teeth like typewriter keys


Kernels of corn and sunflower seeds

Spill over from the squirrel feeder

Creatures on tiny feet bob around 

A small platform


Chewing fast, 

Anticipating the arrival of a car, 

Or children playing, 

Startling, interrupting 

Mealtime pleasure. 


I watch, quiet and still, 

From my table on the porch.

Furry companions with pink ears

And white, round tails,

I witness your dinner, 

While I rest, satisfied from mine.


_______________

{A special note for Jacquie Reed's faithful readers.... Jacquie enjoyed writing as a way to express her insights and share her creativity but also as a way to more deeply connect with the people she held dear. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about the topics in her posts and interacting with her ideas and art while she was living. This post was written and scheduled by Jacquie in the weeks before her unexpected death on November 5, 2021. Her remaining posts will publish every two weeks from now through the end of February 2022. Please feel free to respond with your memories of Jacquie in the comments. May the words she left behind minister to you as you grieve her passing and remember her life. You can find her obituary here.}

Monday, December 6, 2021

A Bouquet of Kindness


“Fresh flowers on the kitchen table?!! Who gave us flowers?“ I asked as I rushed through the garage door into the kitchen carrying two bags filled with items for the trip we’d be taking in two days.


The bouquet of pale pink roses and purple accent flowers waited on the table wrapped in plastic with a pouch of flower food rubber-banded around the stems.  


“You know Kathy, the pharmacy tech,” Mike said as he stood at the sink peeling an apple. “I went to get my glaucoma drops and she gave me the bouquet.”


Kathy had told Mike about her mother’s death last year. Today, on her mother’s birthday, she wanted to do something special to honor her memory. When she saw Mike come in for his prescription, Kathy felt moved to buy the bouquet of flowers to say ‘thank you,’ for the nice things Mike and I have done for the pharmacy staff.


For the past several years, Mike and I have written cards to each member of the pharmacy team during the week of Thanksgiving. We enclose a gift card to Starbucks as a way to express our gratitude for the efficient way they prepare our medications, and for their friendliness each time we come in.


Back in April I dropped off a prescription and was told to expect a day or two delay. The pharmacist explained that these days, the first two hours the store is open, the staff is busy giving Covid shots and can’t begin to fill scripts until after 11:00 am, putting them two hours behind in their regular work.


I could hear the exhaustion in the pharmacist’s voice. I could see the fatigue in the dark circles under her eyes. With all of the frustrations of the past year, dispensing medicine, never closing the department, and now with the task of giving  covid shots added to their job description, these people were overworked and concerned about not getting their orders filled promptly for customers.


I wanted them to know their efforts were appreciated. Before leaving the store, I purchased a packet of six thank you cards, enough for each person in the department. I stopped by Starbucks and got six gift cards. Dropping off my bundle of care the next day, I was delighted to add some cheer to their busy schedule. 


People who work in these roles usually deal with complaints, late orders, conveying insurance denials of payment to customers, and other unpleasant tasks. I didn’t expect them to remember our small gesture, but our simple notes of gratitude left an impression.


Now, seeing the flowers of gratitude Kathy had sent to us, I had a fresh idea. Over the past few years, I have learned how to dye fabric from natural ingredients. I sorted through the bouquet and cut the blossoms. I dropped them into a pot of boiling water and waited a few minutes for the dye to appear. I poured the dye through a strainer to remove any traces of flower petals or leaves. I folded some specially-treated fabric in the dye and let it sit for two hours. I removed the fabric and let it dry, then cut squares to make a small nine-patch quilt. I wanted to say how much I appreciated the bouquet, and to give Kathy a tangible reminder of her kindness to us on her mother’s birthday. 



When I finished making the small quilt, I wrapped it in white tissue paper, wrote a note explaining what I did to the flowers, and put it in a small bag.Taking the bag to the grocery store a few days later, I was happy to see Kathy working. The pharmacy was busy but she took a moment to greet me. 


“I made something  to thank you for the flowers.” She looked surprised as I handed her the bag.


She walked away from the counter, tucking my bag in her purse resting on a shelf, needing to get pick-up requests from those in the line behind me. 


I have seen Kathy several times since. I don’t know her well, but what I do know of her, I know through kindness. She hasn’t said anything about what I gave her, but maybe some gifts are meant to be received in silence. The energy of kindness, thoughtfulness, and gratitude conveyed in tangible ways like cards, flowers, and a small quilt carry what the giver intends. No response necessary. 


_______________

{A special note for Jacquie Reed's faithful readers.... Jacquie enjoyed writing as a way to express her insights and share her creativity but also as a way to more deeply connect with the people she held dear. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about the topics in her posts and interacting with her ideas and art while she was living. This post was written and scheduled by Jacquie in the weeks before her unexpected death on November 5, 2021. Her remaining posts will publish every two weeks from now through the end of February 2022. Please feel free to respond with your memories of Jacquie in the comments. May the words she left behind minister to you as you grieve her passing and remember her life. You can find her obituary here.}


Monday, November 8, 2021

Reframing a Disappointment in the Art Gallery



{A special note for Jacquie Reed's faithful readers.... Jacquie enjoyed writing as a way to express her insights and share her creativity but also as a way to more deeply connect with the people she held dear. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about the topics in her posts and interacting with her ideas and art while she was living. This post was written and scheduled by Jacquie in the weeks before her unexpected death on November 5, 2021. Her remaining posts will publish every two weeks from now through the end of February 2022. Please feel free to respond with your memories of Jacquie in the comments. May the words she left behind minister to you as you grieve her passing and remember her life. You can find her obituary here.}

_______________

Opening my email in early January 2020, the subject line, “Artist of the Month for April”, caught my attention. I responded quickly at the opportunity to have my art once again featured in the second floor gallery of the church I attend. Immediately, I began to organize the pieces I wanted to take as well as setting aside time to finish a few new projects. 

Not quite two months later in mid-March, the pandemic closed the church. 


That was the first of a pile of disappointments the coming year would bring. 


Online worship was difficult for me. After the first month, I found my attention waning. I sat on the couch to watch the sermon but for the other parts of the service, I was content to listen while I baked in the kitchen or worked on a small piece of quilting. 


I missed feeling the energy of people coming together to sing and praise God and hear God’s word proclaimed. Through this strange absence, I realized more than ever the importance of place. The gifts of sitting in a sanctuary, looking at stained glass windows lining the walls, lighting a candle after the service, noting the art at the entrance, all these things helped frame and open my heart to receive God. 


In February 2021, I received another email, with “Artist of the Month for March/April “ in the subject line. These words were the first expression of hope that somehow things were getting back to normal. My reply was quick as I again assessed what I could bring to the gallery, thankful I had used the past year to finish projects and explore new interests. 


A few days before the church opened, I hauled my collection of art in bags and boxes to the gallery. 


Walking up the stairs, I was surprised when I felt tears come. I am not one to cry easily. My heart felt relief as the anxiety of the past year was slowly ebbing. 


Sorting the framed pieces of art on a large table in the middle of the gallery, I noticed the bare, burnt orange walls and the black chains suspended from the ceiling waiting to hold frames. Silence surrounded me while I worked to arrange my work in a place I was still getting used to after being away for a year. 


I wondered who would come to the gallery in the coming days. Would wearing a mask or fear of catching the virus keep people away? Although the vaccine had been available since January, many were wary of receiving this protection. Would the unvaccinated stay home to protect others? 


All of these thoughts went through my head as I placed each picture at the end of the chain. 


Although my art has been featured in many public galleries, I am especially honored when I am the artist of the month at my church. What I create comes from God, and completing art is a way for me to pray. Bringing my art to church is a way to thank God for God’s goodness and provision to express what comes from my heart. Almost like putting an offering on the altar, this act helps me show my appreciation for the way God has enabled me to express in art what I find difficult to put into words. 


In the past when I was artist of the month, I provided light refreshments for a reception after the second service. A large sign on the first floor, bulletin, and screen notices invited people to the second floor. I discovered however, reopening a church in the middle of a pandemic greatly altered publicity for the art show. 


The primary focus of communications was understandably directed to the wellness of people returning to church. Health and safety information had greater visibility. Signs scattered throughout the building reminded attendees to wear a mask, keep a safe distance from others, use hand sanitizer, and exit quickly when the service ended. 


At first I was disturbed that no one knew about the newly refreshed artist of the month gallery. I always looked forward to watching people interact and respond to what I have made. Seeing fingers point to particular parts of framed pieces always makes me want to get into their minds and learn what they are thinking. I wonder what has caught their eye? How has what I made connected to something in their life or illustrated an idea or challenge they might have needed some form to express? What have I given them to take away from their interaction with my art? 


With no publicity for the gallery, these treasured encounters were not possible. 


My concern led me to contact the church staff member responsible for the art show. She explained how the use of screen notices was currently limited to essential information. No paper bulletins were being printed in order to minimize hand contact. Although the coordinator of the gallery had tried to get the usual publicity, she was not successful. 



I was disappointed. 


As the weeks progressed with no publicity Sunday after Sunday, my disappointment only grew. What good did it do to have my art on display when there was no one there to see it. I missed out on the fun of talking to those who came by, answering occasional questions, and receiving their appreciation for my work. Art is meant to be shared. Without people there to respond to the work, it was almost like having icing removed from a birthday cake . 


With emotions piling up, I realized I needed to step back and reflect on the meaning of being artist of the month, set aside my ego, and consider that my art might not be interacting with people, but with God during the time on the church gallery walls. 


I began to imagine how my art heard the music and messages of seven Sunday services including the joy of Easter; the mourning of funerals in the sanctuary; celebrations of weddings long delayed; silent prayers from those who came individually during the week to sit with God in an empty sanctuary; and the music from the organist and choir practicing each week.


The work that I brought had received all of the holiness of what happened on Sundays and throughout each week. 


When I picked up my art at the end of April, each piece seemed to feel a little weightier, filled with God’s presence. 


The past year and a half have necessitated many shifts in normal routines of daily living as well as special events. In your challenges, how have you re-framed your perspective and seen your disappointments in a new way?


Monday, October 25, 2021

Containment [Word 9: The First 100 Words]

 



Word 9 – Containment


Container – a space with a capacity to hold and be filled.


Containment – the action of keeping something harmful under control or within limits; an aspect of resilience; the capacity to manage internally troubling thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in response to stress.


Containment – the energetic space between a client and counselor; the atmosphere of the therapeutic relationship that conveys a sense of safety, allowing the client to safely move comfortably through emotions.


__________


Just looking at the listing of definitions for /containment/ illustrates the depth of meaning this word holds in psychology and everyday life.


When Sharon gave me the word /containment/, I went with the first definition, making a quick trip to a local Container Store, a place filled with creative ways to hold or store any type of item.  I roamed the large store one Saturday afternoon going up and down rows of plastic tubs of all sizes and colors, noting glass jars, trying to decide what fit the word “container” best. I ended up choosing a jar with a metal lid.


When I arrived home, I filled the jar with hearts that I had cut from paper using my exacto knife a few months ago. Each heart had a circle carved out of the middle, a picture of how my heart felt.  I envisioned those who grew up in nurturing homes had full hearts without a hole.


I took the hearts and loosely stitched across the circle inside the heart, leaving space for further growth and attachment. I figured since I was indeed making progress along the path of wellness, I could make the heart resemble a more complete picture. I put all of these hearts in the jar to contain the healing that had happened. 


On a whim, I decided to Google, “psychological meaning of the word containment,” not expecting anything to appear. Instantly, many articles surfaced and my definition of the word expanded in new and amazing ways.


Containment in a therapy setting refers to the energetic space between the counselor and client and is a powerful influence affecting growth and wellness, as well as reception of all that occurs in life or in the counseling session.



Many times in counseling situations, strong emotions can emerge as life events are explored.  “Scraping the bottom of the pot” so to speak, a term Sharon often used with me, gets to the core  history and meaning of many personal topics. These emotions can be difficult to manage or contain. 


During sessions, strong feelings of anger, being adrift, abandonment, rejection and other difficult emotions often surfaced. The energy of these emotions filled my body, like someone was pouring a hot carafe of each emotion into a hole at the top of my head. 


Often, with the weight of emotion from our sessions, walking out the door of Sharon’s office was physically difficult. However, I knew if I could reach my car, one of my favorite places of containment, I could sit within the security of the vehicle and feel enveloped or contained until I could take enough deep breaths to restore my grounding and balance, and anchoring in the present. 


Once I delved into the idea of containment, I noticed places around me offering a visual of what containment looked like. For example, one afternoon I was walking the Monon trail, going across a bridge over a small creek leading into the White River. I noticed how the banks of the creek were containers for the water, giving boundaries to the flow, and letting the water carve a path eventually leading to the river. Pausing when I crossed the bridge over the creek and looking at the banks, I enjoyed the visual sense of containment.


Soon, I began to see my hands as a place of containment. My hands are like the banks of a river on either side of me to give containment, right and left, present, holding, especially when the lid slips off the pot and my emotions overflow. Like the banks of the creek hold the water in its boundaries, my hands help hold back the flood of emotion that may come in the counseling session.


 

An online article in Somatic Therapy, “The Power of Containment” by Gwen McHale (August 4, 2016) explains further: “Those dealing with intense emotions need enough containment to provide banks to the river of our expression so we can stay in relationship to our experience and ourselves, and not get washed away in the suffering. Our ability to find containment for ourselves is learned in the very early days of life.  Containment is offered by a parent as the young child needs another person to hold them, to be present to them, and to provide a safe space within which they can feel their feelings and know themselves. When needs for holding and containment are not met in these early days, there can be breaches in containment. Some of the resulting characteristics include, being easily overwhelmed, underlying fear or anxiety, feeling unable to cope, difficulty forming relationships, insecure attachment styles, and lack of a clear sense of self.”


Unfortunately, I demonstrated all of these impairments! I have to work hard on a continual basis to provide myself helpful containment when I get overwhelmed. 


A few of my practices of containment include sitting in my car, an enclosed space where I can be alone and take a lot of deep breaths. I also have a small basket in my office where I can put flowers, leaves, letters I receive, a new pencil, or any item that has meaning for me. This visual container with treasured items helps me feel a sense of being contained. Often, I take a pencil and draw a row of straight lines within the confines of a sheet of paper. Other times, I draw four connected lines to create a square. I picture myself in the middle, full of emotion. Having the square around myself offers a visual representation of containment and brings peace in the moment. 


The need for containment doesn’t always come from an emotionally deprived background. All people deal with emotions. Some emotions are strong and can get out of control. Learning how to manage them is essential for living a peaceful and productive life. Consider a few “containers” you can call upon quickly when you feel the need for containment. Making a list will help your awareness. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Toddler Table Waits



On my porch,

A toddler table waits,

White painted wood,

Two chairs with a heart carved into the back. 

 

My neighbor walked the table down the sidewalk 

To my house,

A refurbished discard from her sister

Whose children were too old

To squeeze into the small chairs under the short table,

This place where art and learning

Come together

 

I handed her the check, thanking her,

Excitement in my voice.

Carrying it inside,

The next step in getting ready

For my fifteen-month old grandson’s first visit

To my house.

 

I pictured my little one

At the table

Working puzzles,

Coloring, looking at books 

Eating a snack. 

 

But the Delta variant. 

 

Increasing numbers.

A visit postponed

To steer clear of 

Long layovers in large busy airports.

Cross-country travel is too much of a risk. 

 

The tiny chairs and table in my dining room remain empty.

Sadness enters my space and takes a seat,

Canceling excitement and joy.

 

I had visions of the little one busy at the table.

 


Watching him with crayons and markers in hand,

Random scribbles on paper

To make a remembrance of the visit.

Working puzzles his mother and aunt played with

When they were just as small.

Eating oranges and crackers, grinning with each bite,

A snack for energy, fuel for more fun at the table.

 

My visions stay visions for now.

 

The family will come sometime 

A date not yet known or planned.

 

Airline tickets valid for a year...are waiting.

Table and chairs...are waiting.

Crayons, markers, paper and puzzles in the cupboard...are waiting.

My arms...are waiting 

For a reunion of love with these dear ones far away.


Monday, October 11, 2021

Flawed [Word 4: The First 100 Words]

 



Word 4 – Flawed


/flawed/ – blemished, damaged or imperfect in some way; having a weakness in character; broken, torn or damaged


Words I associated with /flawed/: compassion, value, hope, hold



__________________



“Your word this week is ‘flawed,’ Sharon said, reaching under the couch in her office and handing me a canvas. Right away, I noticed a small rip in the canvas in the right hand corner.


“Look, Sharon, the canvas is torn. Did you see the tear when you bought the canvas or did something make the hole after you arrived home?” I asked.


“Knowing my perfectionistic personality,” Sharon laughed, “I would not have purchased this if I’d seen the hole in it!” By accident the canvas seemed just right for the word of the week.


I smiled and carried the flawed canvas out her office door. In my mind, I carried the word /flawed/. Already, it was triggering unpleasant feelings of my past.


As I began to brainstorm what I might do with the flawed canvas, I thought: 


Although the hole is tiny, the canvas has value.


I have compassion for the canvas even though it’s not perfect.


I can make something beautiful. 


Maybe the hole is for light to come through. As John 1:5 says, ‘The light shines in the darkness and the light was not overcome.’


The canvas is me. I am flawed. I have compassion for the canvas and for myself.

I can paint the canvas black and leave the hole for light.


I can cover the canvas with pictures of myself and make it a sign of John 1:5 and hope.


Along with these ideas, I also remembered a few lines in Leonard Cohen’s song,


“Ring the bells that can still ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.”


The word /flawed/ took me deep into my past. Growing up, I never felt like I fit in with my classmates, partly because I wasn’t allowed to make my own choices and be the person I wanted to be. I wasn’t able to pick out the shoes I wanted to wear in elementary school. Each year, my parents purchased a pair of Buster Brown leather shoes for me to wear. They were durable and lasted for the entire school year. They were ugly. No one else in the school wore ugly, brown leather shoes.


My parents also limited my experiences. I felt stifled, not allowed to explore topics that interested me. I wanted to embroider, do crafts, and read a variety of books, all of which were inaccessible to me.


I was 14 years old when I finally had my hair cut professionally. My mother always cut my hair in a bob and it looked terrible. My friends had shoulder-length hair and I wanted to let my hair grow out like theirs. My mother purchased or made the five outfits I rotated to wear to school each week. I had no choices in what I wore or how my hair was styled.


The word /flawed/ accurately described my internal and external state, reinforced by continued neglect. I felt awkward and uneasy when I interacted with friends at school. I was uncomfortable speaking to boys. Unable to explore the things that interested me or make choices to keep myself looking stylish, I felt I must be imperfect or damaged in some way. 


Along with all of this, my brother was treated very differently. He chose his clothes and hairstyle, was encouraged to attend enrichment programs, received awards for science projects, played on the high school tennis team, and had a wide circle of friends. These things reinforced my feelings of inadequacy. If only I could have these same opportunities, I thought, I too could forge ahead with self-confidence.


How did I eventually choose to illustrate the word /flawed/? I began by gathering a few black and white school pictures of myself in elementary school and junior high, making xerox copies of each one. I removed the border of the picture, and then cut the picture into triangular pieces. In the shapes, my eyes were disconnected from the rest of my face. My chin and nose were cut diagonally.



I arranged all of the pieces on the canvas like a collage. The canvas looked like a mis-matched puzzle, none of the pieces going together. The arrangement of these fragments reflected the scattered state of my mind during the years represented.


By hand, I sewed all of the photo fragments onto the canvas. Sewing on canvas was much more difficult than sewing on fabric. The canvas was thick. Pulling the needle through required a lot of strength. It took two hours for me to sew everything together.


When I finished, I looked at the canvas. The sad, angry, and disappointed feelings I experienced long ago emerged. I took a deep breath.


I suddenly remembered the hole in the canvas, now covered with remnants of my school pictures. Thinking about how even a tiny hole can let light through also helped me remember how I was aware of God’s presence during those terrible years of childhood. I knew the comforting presence of God in my heart when I prayed at home and at my school desk. At the time, I didn’t think about the possibility of God removing me from my home or putting me with another family where I could flourish. I just knew the reality of God’s sustaining presence.


I wrote John 1:5 at the bottom of the canvas. Although my knowledge of the nature of God was not broad in childhood, I did know God was bringing comfort, giving me a blanket of love that no one else seemed to provide.


Illustrating a bleak time in my life on an 8 x 10 canvas helped me discover and express old feelings.  Looking at the disheveled pictures reminded me how broken I felt emotionally and socially, yet aware at the same time of how God was giving me daily strength to persevere.


The canvas with a rip was the perfect thing to illustrate /flawed/. My childhood was indeed flawed, and the flaw allowed the light of God to come through.


Monday, September 27, 2021

Reunited



We met at the cemetery


She stood over the grave of her twins

Who died at twenty three weeks.


Blustery December winds

Whipping at her heavy coat

Blowing against her tan felt hat


Vacant, sunken eyes, lips frozen in a line,

Tears rolling down her thin cheeks, 

Like icicles at the end of her chin.


A gray casket 

Surrounded by loving grandparents,

Aunts, uncles, cousins

Carrying carnations for the burial.

The father holding their two-year-old son,  

A big brother hardly comprehending the meaning of 

A tiny box, 

An open hole, 

People crying,

Two siblings lost. 


I stood by watching

With compassion

Holding my carnations in hand.


Later, I wrote my sympathies 

And offered to give her a ride 

To a support group 

For parents who have lost babies.

She had hoped for a house full of children.


Slowly driving over snow-covered roads,

Sliding occasionally on a patch of ice joined with packed snow 

Like two pieces of fabric sewn together.


In the car, we got acquainted. 

She talked, 

I listened.

A fellow quilter,

An instant bond 

Over our friendship with fabric.


The weeks and months passed 

I brought occasional meals, 

Playing with her toddler to give her time alone,

Watching her skilled hands make complex-patterned quilts,

Standing with her at the cemetery a year later 

With two bunches of flowers, 

Honoring the coming and going 

Of these two children born in November,

The week before Thanksgiving.


Slowly she emerged, 

Still crying inside, 

Smiling on the outside for those around her.


One day she asked me over for tea.

She served me with a porcelain teapot, a wedding gift, 

Covered with butterflies and a yellow butterfly handle.

Delicate cups with 

A painted lady bug inside.


Our friendship extended beyond quilted fabric to wedding china 

And entered our hearts.


One day over the butterfly teapot,

She told me they were moving.

Heartbroken, trying to contain my tears,

Not wanting to ruin the joy of her husband’s promotion,

Or her excitement for new adventures.


We said good-bye a few weeks later

And kept in touch, always ending our emails with,

“My dearest friend.”


Three years later,
After many cards, letters, and emails,

She wrote to say they were moving again,

Back to the area where I met her,

Back to the children left behind, but always

Carried in her heart.


Last week we were reunited,

The butterfly teapot and ladybug cup

waited on the kitchen table.

We laughed, I cried.

Joy in being back together,

Sharing her excitement of creating new quilting patterns, a new website, a new business,

All from things learned in her time away from here.


Two hearts who met on the saddest of days

Pieced together in wind and snow

That December morning.

Bound with love over time.

Witnessed and warmed

with the butterfly teapot and ladybug cup.