naming our strengths

I was bewailing my latest poor job interview to my mom over the phone.  Like any good parent, she listened, gave me some tough love about how I could do better, and then said something that was encouraging.  One way to get better at interviewing, she said, is to know yourself, and in particular, your strengths.  And it makes sense: if I want a job that allows me to do what I’m best at, a) I should know what that is, and b) be able to show/tell prospective employers so.

It’s not like I haven’t thought about this before.  I’ve always known that I’m a quick reader, that I’m not frightened of numbers (or big words, or strange ideas, or really anything you might find in a university class), that I relish thinking.  I know that these gifts make me unique.  But it was a surprising shift to think of those qualities as valuable, not just “I can (_insert gift_)” but “I can (_insert gift_) and it is good!”

Creativity is one of those gifts.  My expression of creativity is different than other people’s, and yet I’m coming to realize that I can bring a creative spin to projects…and that is a good thing!  Thinking about other creative friends (artists, writers, cooks, homemakers, pastors…), I wonder how much we let ourselves own and value our own creative gifts, instead of taking them for granted.  It’s hard to silence that voice of self-doubt, self-criticism, claiming that you aren’t really creative, or if you are, it’s not something that actually has value in this harsh “real world.”  But when I stop and think, I know that dreary voice is absolutely wrong!  Living creatively is what makes it possible to thrive instead of just survive in this “real world”: in the storytelling that speaks out against oppression, the art that heals wounds, the meals that bring together, the songs that speak our hearts, the thoughtful use of resources to make the world a better place.

I want to keep naming my strengths, not as a way to diminish others or deny my weaknesses, but as a first step towards giving them away in service to others.

Transforming Weakness

I have started using the calendar on my computer. I still have a paper day planner, but there are a few things I have entered in my computer. Two of them are my monthly writing club and my tri-weekly blog post. It is handy having an automatic reminder every third Tuesday or the second Saturday of the month. Unfortunately, life is not always as precise as technology. Of the eight months since I entered my writing club, this month, which happens to be the last month, was the first time that it was on the day I had planned.

In a similar vein, yesterday, when I got my reminder for this blog, I was annoyed. I didn’t want to write a blog. I’m moving in two days, I have a test in three, and my family has come to visit. The last thing I wanted to do was blog. However, tonight, I opened my computer and caught up on reading the two blogs that I follow. This one and Whispers of Encouragement. It was interesting to see that both of them talked about life being overwhelming and God being sufficient.

I was encouraged. I know that life can be hectic and we should not be slaves to our schedules, but I also think that sometimes it is good to have deadlines to strive for. Like Christine has been doing with Ignatian examen, I think that routines are important to stability. At this point, most of my routines have to do with writing and learning Japanese, but I would like to find more creative spiritual habits that help me grow.

One of the disciplines I do try and maintain is listening when my computer reminds me every three weeks that I need to blog. I don’t always need the reminder, and sometimes I look forward to it. I usually, even read Christine and Jill’s thoughts on their weeks, but there are times when I am just not interested. However, every time I do sit down to write, I find I have something to say. Whether, it is profound, or simple, at least once a month I take the time to think about my life, creativity and my relationship with God.

What are you dreading, that you should maybe do anyway?

sleeping with bread

I’m not feeling very creative today.  I don’t feel full of passion or positive motivation.  Most of what I feel is fear – fear that I’m behind in the work I’m supposed to be accomplishing, fear of future decisions, fear that my housemates and I won’t be able to find a place to live by September 1st.

“But I have to write a CreativiTea blog entry today,” I thought as I walked to the kitchen to refill on tortilla chips.  “Well, I can write about how I’m trying to cope with all these things.  That may not be about creativity, but it is surely about faith.”  So here it is.

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending a prayer retreat led by Susan Phillips where we explored the examen, a practice of Ignatian spirituality.  Broadly speaking, the examen is a method of examining your life and seeking the truth that it reveals; more specifically, a common way of practicing the examen is to sit down at the end of the day and ask yourself what you are most and least grateful for in that day.  Susan recommended a book called “Sleeping With Bread” as a good introduction to the practice, and I’ve bought it, read it, and am trying to do the examen every day now.

The title “Sleeping with Bread” comes from a story of children orphaned in World War 2; the children were having trouble sleeping until someone hit on the idea of giving them a piece of bread to hold as they slept, a reassurance that there would be food and shelter for them when they woke.  And I have found the examen to be that in my life so far.  Doing it as a ritual every night has provided a safe place to decompress at the end of long, busy days.  It has also helped me stay balanced between despair and denial by forcing me to confront what was hard about the day, but also by reminding me what was good and joyful.

Besides being a helpful practice on its own, doing the examen has shown me the importance of having daily (and weekly and yearly) rituals, not only for their inherent stability, but their ability to sustain us in all aspects of our lives – spiritual, mental, physical, and definitely our creative lives.

What rituals do you have that support and sustain your (creative – spiritual – emotional – etc.) life?  

Should age be the factor in mentorship?

I recently came across an online forum that crowdsources and refines ideas to make life better. The site is called OpenIDEO. My interest was peaked by a recent challenge on the site: How might we inspire and engage young people to support older adults through mentorship?

I appreciate this upside-down thinking where age is not the determining factor in who has something to give.

There are some wonderful contributions to the question. I love the idea of youth partnering with older adults to map memories of places to boost conservation in cities (submitted by Kate Machtiger). Or the “reverse summer school” where young people use empty school classrooms to teach skills to older adults during their summer holidays (submitted by Mathieu Chevalier).

In considering how we might support our aging population innovative and creative ideas like these will be needed.

How can young people in your area support older adults?

Preparing for Transitions

In September, I’ll be going back to school. I’m really excited, and a bit overwhelmed. Last week, I stayed with a friend for the few days before she left for school. It was wonderful, because she’s amazing, and moving to Tennessee, but it was also exhausting. It reminded me off all the things I need to get done before I go. I’ve already started studying for a placement exam. I’m working several days a week. I have to pack and move. Moving didn’t seem like a big deal, until I remembered that I needed to bring furniture, which means coordinating help, and taking a bigger vehicle. I’d also, like to get some of the projects I started in the last few years done, before I go to school.

Thinking about all this, I starting to regret the five day vacation in the middle of August. It would be five more days of studying, packing, etc. However, reading Christine’s blog from last week reminded me that not only is getting everything ready, making money for school, etc. important, but taking a break is an important part of preparation.

The idea of Sabbath rest is something I have always treasured about the Bible. Spending most of your time working, but having time set apart for rest has always made a lot of sense to me. It also makes me feel special, that God did not create me just to slave away. He created me with gifts and he expects me to use them. Work and learning are both part of his plan, but he also created me for relationship, rest and pleasure.

In the Old Testament, the seventh day was set apart as holy, it was the day that the Israelites were to do no work. Instead, they were to rest, just like God did during Creation. I am not sure what the Israelites did or didn’t do on the Sabbath. How they rested, or if they gathered in the temple, but I think that the idea of setting time apart for rest is very important even today.

Over the years, I have had many jobs where I had to work weekends. Sometimes this meant that I always had Mondays and Tuesdays off, and other times it meant that my weeks varied. As long as I took one day completely off within a week or so, it did not seem to make a difference. However, one of the things that I like about school, is there are no classes on Saturday and Sunday. I am looking forward to once again having every weekend off, or at least one of the two days off from studying. Hopefully, during this time of preparation, I will be able to find a healthy balance between work, rest and saying goodbye.

Have you found a healthy work, rest and relationship balance?


Posts have been a bit slow from Jill and I recently because…

Kerry Cliffs

…we were both on vacation in Ireland and the UK!

It was great to get away for a few weeks and have a proper vacation.  Chatting with a friend, I realized that the gift of this particular trip was the chance to live “duty-free” for a few weeks.  I still had to answer emails every other day and I made sure to write postcards to my family, but otherwise I was able to shed all obligations and simply live out each day’s demands as they occurred.  And if I made it to all the sites, great; if not, there wasn’t the sense that I hadn’t completed the day.

Of course, since returning from vacation I have been bombarded with my no-longer-suspended obligations: find a place to live, start a new work project and prepare for the two workshops I’m teaching next week.  And in some ways, that’s as it should be.  Life accumulates meaning and purpose through the commitments we make, and the duties that we choose (or that choose us!).

What my vacation taught me, however, is that I can’t let my obligations consume me until I see nothing else.  It taught me to see my commitments in the proper perspective; as promises made by a single, small person who can’t do everything at once.  My vacation taught me, in an experiential way, the truth of the words “…do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”


Family History

Over the last few weeks, I have been thinking about family history. I just finished reading a book about my great-great grandparents, “Homestead Memories on the Buffalo Paunch Creek”, by Yvonne Lorentzen McGuire. I found it interesting to read stories about my ancestors who lived, and some of whom died over a hundred years ago. I was fascinated by the their log cabin being made in the stockade fashion instead of horizontal logs like I am used to. Reading my Grandfather’s cousin’s account of helping not homestead in the mid-fifties, still cooking on a coal stove. Although I still prefer the story I had heard of great-great-great grandpa Emmanuel’s ghost ship floating in the Atlantic, it was fascinating to hear the more reasonable a ship lost at sea.

Reading this, made me curious about my other sets of great-great grandparents. What were Great Grandpa and Grandma Knight’s parents like? What was it like raising children in poverty during the reign of Queen Victoria? Who were Great-Great Grandpa and Grandma Barlow? How come they moved so much? So many questions and so few people who might know the answers.

Thinking about how quickly family stories can be lost, has made me treasure my own memories of my grandparents & great grandparents. My tiny Great Grandma Blanche whose hands were as strong as a vice. My equally short and less well know Great Grandma Morey. Gruff Great Grandpa Morey. My Grandma’s dad and his wife, who I only met a few times, but who welcomed a whole gaggle of us to their home. Grandpa Morey who loved and emulated Eeyore and looked like Spenser Tracy. Grandma Mom who I spent many summers with and most weekends my first year of university. Grandpa Lorentz and Grandma Lou who are still alive and when they are home live right across the alley.

So many memories, and thankfully there is still time to make more. I’m glad that cousin Yvonne took the time and effort to not only write down her memories, but research the facts that were missing and give some of the history of Washburn, ND.