Monday, August 30, 2021

Meadow: A Place for Delight, Expectation, Wonder, Discovery, and Curiosity [Word 48: The First 100 Words]

Meadow – word 48

Meadow  - a grassland used for hay; low ground near a river; green range field.

Words associated with meadow – openness, explore, space


As with most of the words Sharon gave me, I hadn’t anticipated what /meadow/ would come to mean over the next several months. When I heard the word /meadow/, I immediately thought of a pasture where cows and sheep graze.

At first I was perplexed about where I would find a meadow in my suburban area. Then I remembered the twenty minute drive I take each June to the strawberry patch, traveling on a narrow road surrounded by countryside.

Reaching the country road, only three or four minutes from my house, I followed this path and realized I was surrounded by meadows. I chose one and looked for a place to stop. Nearby, I found a church and pulled my car into the parking lot.

Exploring new places brings me delight, expectation, wonder, discovery, and curiosity. I didn’t know what to expect here.  What would I find? Should I have worn my boots? Rainy days preceding my trip had saturated the earth, making mud and puddles prevalent in my yard. Today was a hot day in mid-July, but I wondered if the area might still be muddy. 

Approaching the meadow, I felt its openness. The field was filled only with nature, not cluttered with buildings or houses or sheds. I felt my heart and mind expand in this open area. I took a deep breath, inhaling the energy and spaciousness the meadow provided.

The sky seemed to blend with the flowers and tall grass. Nothing obstructed the wide topography. Walking over the bumpy terrain, I encountered blooming wildflowers interspersed with  plants dried out after the previous summer.

 A few small butterflies were exploring the meadow with me. They were like my pauses to take in the view. Each one stopped to rest on a flower or plant for a few seconds before moving on to the next perch. These tiny, pale yellow butterflies were light and free, gracefully skipping over the tops of plants and flowers.

Grasshoppers jumped along the way like popcorn popping. Their spontaneity refreshed my senses. 

In the middle of the meadow, I came to a narrow creek filled with water. I watched the water flow, moving slowly, carving an identity in the bank as it moved. 

Needing to move on in my day, I reluctantly left the meadow. But I left with a sense of freedom from spending time in a wide open space. I felt renewed life from the beauty and discovery. I could hardly wait to come back for another visit.

In the days ahead, I discovered three more meadows close to my house. I began a habit of walking there. Going to the meadow is like going on a retreat. When I need to expand my mind and emotions, or when I feel stressed and need to calm myself, I go to the meadow, and almost instantly I feel my heart opening and my body relaxing. 

The meadow has become a place of grounding and anchoring, a constant in my life, always ready and waiting for my exploration. 

After the emergence of COVID, the meadow became a place of refuge, quiet, and respite from pandemic loss and anxiety. When I was feeling sad or lonely or had a feeling of being adrift or aimless, a trip to the meadow brought me back to the present and redirected my thoughts. Grasshoppers, butterflies, and bees were my new companions when most humans were out of reach. At times I felt like I was in a florist shop with the abundance of daisies and other orange, yellow, and purple wildflowers. I began a habit of picking meadow flowers and assembling bouquets as a souvenir of each visit

When I returned to Sharon’s office the week after my meadow assignment, I showed her the bouquets of dried flowers and plants I had arranged. We talked about what the experience had meant. I told her how the word /meadow/ opened a whole new world for me, a new environment to explore, one that naturally spoke to my heart and soul. She suggested the next time I went, I could make a meadow mobile using the things I found there.

The next time I went to the meadow I drew pictures of each thing I saw, from dried plants to flowers to grasshoppers to butterflies. Then, I cut pieces of straw from the meadow and used them like a dowel rod, tied the pictures to the straw, and created a dangling art piece to remind me of my time in the meadow.

Another time, one chilly November day I went to the meadow and wrote a short poem:

“Cold wind combing my hair,

Kissing my cheeks

Wrapping my heart

Like a mother swaddling her newborn

With a homemade quilt.”

On Christmas Eve, I was feeling particularly sad at having to watch church online. The church I attend had been closed for six months. I had never missed Christmas Eve service and felt unsettled at missing this tradition that was such an important part of the holiday season. Our family celebration of opening presents took place on Zoom and did not capture the excitement I usually felt as my loved ones opened the presents I had picked out for them. 

Late on Christmas afternoon, I decided to walk to the meadow. Despite the 12 degree temperature, I was delighted to find bright red heart-shaped leaves dangling on dried stems, a few strands of green grass, and patches of snow against a backdrop of dried brown plants. 

Even on a disappointing Christmas day, the meadow offered beauty, a gift to my aching heart. Now, my heart was so full that I came home and drew a picture of the holiday scene from the meadow.

Like all of the words given to me, /meadow/ has become woven into my habits and thoughts. My awareness and enjoyment of these patches of land bring year-round refreshment, renewal, and rest. As I walk over the uneven ground and observe what is growing now as well as the remnants of what was growing in past seasons, the meadow seems to have in it whatever I need. 

Monday, August 16, 2021

A Balloon for Jesus’ Tomb: Good Friday in the Kroger Parking Lot

My throat had been sore for a week, my glands swollen. I was exhausted. Because of a disruption in communication at my doctor’s office there was a two-day delay in getting medication.

Tired from the drains of multiple communications with my doctor’s office, and confused about what was happening in my body and the things my practitioner wanted to do to help, I drove to Kroger to pick up my medication.

It has been my practice over the past year to use the drive-through. That day, I saw a sign on the tube saying the drive-through was broken. With frustration, I drove to the parking lot and found an empty spot. I had been in the store only a few times since receiving my second vaccine.

It was late in the afternoon on Good Friday and I found the parking lot packed with cars. I dreaded going inside with so many other people.

Getting out of my car, I noticed a woman in the first handicapped space closest to the store, struggling to fit multiple plastic bags filled with balloons into the back of her car. 

I walked over and said, “Do you need some help?”

She looked at me and I could see relief in her eyes above her mask. It’s amazing how much can be conveyed with only the eyes.

“Yes, I would. Thank you”

“I will hold the balloons while you put the trunk up.” I said, “Someone is going to have a lot of fun with these.” I could see through the plastic the many colors of the balloons.

The woman looked at me and I could see a change in her eyes. They were sad and teary. I wondered what I had said to upset her.

“I am taking the balloons to the cemetery to decorate my brother’s grave. Last November, on Friday the 13th, he died suddenly of a heart attack. He was 49. Today, another Friday, is his birthday.“ Her eyes smiled as she talked about him. “We were very close. I had a feeling something was wrong that day. I called my mother and went over to his house and found him on the floor. He was already gone.”

I paused for a minute to take in what she told me. 

“I have heard of people taking balloons to the graves of those they love. I will think about you the rest of the day as you go and remember your brother. “ I visualized her walking over the grass and placing the balloons next to a granite tombstone. 

“I appreciate that,” she replied as she went on her way. 

I walked into Kroger and walked right up to the counter without anyone else around. Going back to my car, I was thinking about Good Friday, the day Jesus died. He was surrounded by his mother and the disciples who could do nothing to save him. Jesus was fulfilling the scripture, dying for our sins. 

Talking to the woman in the parking lot made Good Friday more real to me. I don’t know if she realized it was Good Friday, but as I was thinking about her, I was also remembering Jesus who died on the same day that she was visiting her brother’s grave.

I don’t have a grave where I can take balloons to celebrate Jesus’ life, and what life in Jesus has offered to me. But maybe stopping and helping her, showing kindness and love to a stranger, is one way I can honor Jesus. Perhaps any type of kindness shown in the spirit of God’s love can be like offering a balloon at Jesus tomb. 

Monday, August 2, 2021

The First One Hundred Words


“Here’s a project for your weekend, “ Sharon said one day at the end of our counseling session. 

She walked to the couch where I was sitting at one end and reached under the opposite side, pulling out a stack of 8x10 canvases. 

“Using one canvas each week, I want you to make art related to the words I give you. Bring the canvas when you return next week. We’ll talk about the art you make and your thought process behind it. Your first word is /time/.” 

Sharon knew I liked art and writing. I had expressed frustration, disappointment and confusion to her that all of my creative avenues, writing and art had gone dry over the past couple of years. We explored possible causes and came up with no answers. The loss of these important parts of myself was like living without hands. My hands seemed bound, unable to bring forth any new images, words, or writing. 

I took the empty canvas, the word /time/ and walked out the door. I hadn’t done anything creative in two years. I was not used to making art, had never created on a canvas, and only had four days to put something together. As I went  down the three flights of stairs in the church where the counseling center was located, I began to think about  what I would make. 

The first word and canvas Sharon gave me was on August 22, 2019. So far, Sharon has given me over 100 words. In those days, I often left her office crying, out of touch with reality, locked in the past, barely able to stumble out of her room. Carrying a canvas gave me something tangible to hold as I walked out the door and back into everyday life. In those chaotic times, I felt a new clarity and sense of direction with Sharon's assignment to make a piece of art guided by a single word. 

I discovered each week that Sharon's ritual of giving me a word stretched my brain in new directions. I explored nouns, verbs and adjectives in the context of creating art. Working with the word and canvas from Thursday to Monday gave me something to think about other than distress from the past. The word often increased my awareness of surroundings or generated a new idea. Staying present to the word and exploring what the word might say to me was sustaining in hard times. The word became a companion and counselor “walking beside me” as I went through my days. 

I had complete freedom, no constraints or specific instructions to confine my imagination. Over time, exploring each word and creating art reactivated my writing and began a series of new art projects. 

First, I wrote down the word, the number, and the date. Then, I went to and found the word’s meaning. Most of the time I had an idea what the word meant, but reading the multiple definitions expanded my thoughts and offered direction. I used the formal definition as a springboard to generate ideas. 

Some words had a psychological definition which helped me understand the difficulties through which I was working or gave me strategies in my interactions with people, which were often challenging and confusing. 

Eventually Sharon ran out of canvases, so she invited me to create something using whatever resources I had at home. Fortunately I had a lot of tablets of art paper which formed the basis of many projects. I also used twigs from the backyard, acrylic paint, cardboard, fabric, my X-acto knife, and salt dough. 

When I reached the 100th word, I was reminded of the children’s picture book 100 First Words for Toddlers. The book contains photographs of 100 objects familiar to a toddler or preschooler. These words form the beginning of their understanding and communication in the world. Naming and discussing each word and finding the word in the house and surroundings can add meaning to a child’s life and assist in language development. 

The first 100 words Sharon gave me helped me enter my next stage of development. I began to emerge from a past shadowed with deficiencies, lack of enriching and healthy experiences, and a sheltered and narrow environment. Each word was like a beam of light, opening new thoughts, making me more aware of my surroundings as if I were carrying the word in a backpack as I explored the world around me. Just like the children’s book, 100 First Words, the first 100 words Sharon gave me provided a guide as I emerged a new person. 

What did I make for that very first word, /time/? I listed words associated with /time/ such as order, restore, seasons, discovery, rhythm, grounding, growth, naming, and stability. On the canvas, I started with what I knew best – fabric and sewing. I found four pieces of soft fabric in pastel colors, cut the fabric into 2” x 2” squares and arranged them in a pattern over the canvas. Using a strong needle and thick quilting fabric, I sewed the fabric to the canvas. Maneuvering my hands over the wood frame and sewing through the thick canvas required skill, strength, and dexterity I had not used before. 

It felt good to be back in the process of creation. Thinking about how I could interpret /time/ on an 8x10 canvas gave me a good challenge, a stretch of my imagination, and a sense of wonder and expectation – all of which I had missed so much. 

Working on the first canvas brought me out of my emotional work, helping me realize there is more to life than dealing with the unpleasant residue of my past. I felt lighter, more balanced, and optimistic about my future. When I returned to see Sharon the next Monday, she was as excited to see what I made as I was to show her. Explaining my process gave me new energy, empowering me to continue with the work ahead. 

I carry each of the words with me wherever I go. They help me stay present and aware of what is happening within as well as what I see. For example, when I am driving, I look at the horizon and remember what Sharon and I said about  /clouds/ and their shapes and gradations of color. Clouds are undependable. They are here and then they are gone. The clouds reminded me of how people would come and go in my life and how unsettling that was to me. The clouds helped me name my longing for consistency in my relationships. 

Sharon gave me the word /eyes/ long before everyone started to wear masks. Now after a year of seeing people with masks, I am amazed how much expression of emotion the eyes contain without seeing a person’s whole face. 

When I see a foot bridge, I think of the word /gap/ that Sharon gave me. I notice how the bridge connects the  gap between one side and the other. When I feel emotionally disconnected, I mentally recreate a bridge in my mind, praying the strength of the image will pull together parts of myself that feel far away. 

Each word has its own function even if a visible form of art didn’t emerge. One thing I like about working with a single word is that it doesn’t overwhelm me. Sometimes reading sayings, paragraphs, or articles that offer advice, can exhaust me. A single word is simple yet has enough energy in itself for me to go deeper in meaning, to explore, relate to my life, perhaps make an artful response, or just settle it in my soul for retrieval when needed. 

In the next few months, I plan to share the words Sharon gave me, along with my interpretation of each word and its integration into my life. 

I invite you to join me and see what focusing on a single word can do for you.

  1. Get a piece of paper or notebook, and make a list of five words that are important to you. 

  2. Look up the meaning and write down each one. Which meanings apply to where you are right now or what you are going through? 

  3. Write a sentence or two about the word and how you connect with it. 

  4. If you can, create a drawing or piece of art related to the word. 

  5. Ask God to add reflections to what you did. 

Here is a listing of the first 100 words:

  1. Time

  2. Seasons

  3. Fly

  4. Flawed

  5. That happened

  6. Anguish

  7. Egg

  8. Justice

  9. Containment

  10. Autumn

  11. Time

  12. Bridge

  13. Lost

  14. Hooked

  15. Found

  16. Sacrifice

  17. Dance

  18. Eyes

  19. Resolve

  20. Confidence

  21. Sequence

  22. Acceptance

  23. System

  24. Pillow

  25. Iron

  26. Wonder

  27. Cream

  28. Altruism

  29. Witness

  30. Sunrise

  31. Empowerment

  32. Light

  33. Bulb

  34. Nature’s

  35. Nest

  36. Beam

  37. Circular

  38. Egress

  39. Branch

  40. Jagged

  41. Love

  42. Consideration

  43. Relatability

  44. Absolute

  45. Oak tree

  46. Water

  47. Derailed

  48. Meadow

  49. Cloud

  50. Wide-open

  51. Awakening

  52. Be, bee

  53. Integration

  54. Wind blowing through

  55. Transformation

  56. Soulful

  57. Bridge

  58. Cloak

  59. Crackers

  60. Adaptation

  61. Understanding

  62. Recall

  63. Remembering

  64. Cross

  65. Embrace

  66. Opening

  67. Nature

  68. Blend

  69. Creation

  70. Listen

  71. Notice

  72. Wave

  73. Gap

  74. Disappointment

  75. Sadness

  76. Window

  77. Eye

  78. Transformation

  79. Holy

  80. Sacred

  81. Reach

  82. Addiction

  83. Conduct

  84. Saturation

  85. Vision

  86. Continuum

  87. Friendship

  88. Reciprocation

  89. Flight

  90. Openness

  91. Invisible

  92. Resilient

  93. Connection

  94. Orange

  95. Surround

  96. Wind

  97. Flight

  98. Expand

  99. Atmosphere

  100. Landscape

  101. Connection

  102. Blanket

  103. Wonder

  104. Establishment

  105. Regulate

  106. Fluid

  107. Window