Making a Sanctuary

“If we could make our house a home, and then make it a sanctuary, I think we could truly find paradise on Earth.”  - Alexandra Stoddard

I always enjoy the opportunity to tour lovely homes. Every year I go on a housewalk, where beautiful homes are decorated inside and out as a fundraiser to provide scholarships to high school students. Seeing such homes always makes me a little envious–but the home that made me most envious recently was not part of a housewalk. It was simply a house where my husband and I had gone to a party.

The rooms that had me drooling were a bedroom suite belonging to our host. The suite was spacious and had paintings, statues, and books on shelves. There was a comfortable couch that was obviously used by our host to relax. Why did this particular suite create a yearning in me? It wasn’t necessarily the spaciousness. The bedroom my husband and I share is the largest room in our house. It wasn’t necessarily the artwork. We have paintings that I like. They are not valuable, but I have no reason to think the artwork in that suite was valuable either. Books? No. I’ve got books—more than I will ever read, probably. The couch? No. My room contains a comfortable chair.

No, what appealed to me about the suite was the order and sense of peace. It was a place to get away from our noisy, busy world and read or reflect. Religious artifacts made it clear that it was also a place to pray.

It was a sanctuary.

Caribbean, British Virgin Islands, Scrub Island,  Guest Bedroom

A serene bedroom (Marina_Suite,_Scrub_Island_Resort,_Spa_&_Marina)

My bedroom has the basics to make it a sanctuary. Besides the comfortable chair, which belonged to my mother, I have a small bookcase from her, and a lamp and table from my mother-in-law. These women are deceased, and their items have positive connotations for me. I even have a few religious artifacts in my room.

The problem is that I have too much clutter. It is not a calm place to reflect or to pray. I don’t need to add anything to make my room a sanctuary, I need to subtract items. My books are stacked on night stands, on the floor, and even under my bed. These need to be cleared out and put in order. I have papers and magazines to sort through, and I need to hang up clothes I have flung over another chair.

So I’ve decided to do some “spring cleaning” now, while it’s winter. I live in the Chicago area, and the cold and snow make me want to cocoon. This is a better time for me to declutter than spring, when I will want to be out enjoying the weather.

I look forward to having a sanctuary of my own.

What about you? Do you have a place that serves as your sanctuary? How have you nourished your spiritual self recently?  

Posted in Inspiration, self-care, Spiritual | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Retreating Before Moving Forward

“Women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves.”  Anne Morrow Lindbergh

The New Year has come and gone. I set my resolutions but felt the need for something more. I remembered a dream where I was following the elephants in a parade and shoveling up their droppings, which I dumped into a cart pulled by a horse. The parade had passed me by, and I just had to deal with the remains. When I had this dream, I realized I wasn’t happy at my job, and I decided to quit.

It is time to reflect on one’s life when one feels frustrated like this. I want to lead my life, not just watch it go by. I decided to take a mini-retreat. 

woman for retreat post

An important part of a retreat is setting an intention. I wanted my retreat to take me out of my ordinary life for a few hours so I could reflect on how I want the upcoming year to be.

I began my retreat by praying for guidance, and I listened to a couple of talks on the New Year, which I found on the Internet. I also read the scripture passages for the day. Interestingly, the first one spoke about the need for Sabbath, and the gospel reading talked about the need for faith and action.  “Rise! Pick up your mat! And walk.”

For the logistics of the retreat, I dressed in comfortable clothes and found a cozy blanket to use throughout the day to help myself feel relaxed. A meditative activity like drawing is always good—I pulled out colored chalk and a big sheet of white paper and drew for a while. I also gave myself changes of scenery by splitting my time between my bedroom and our dining room and by going for a walk.

For me, the most critical part of a retreat is journaling. I began by journaling about 2014.

  • I did pretty well in some ways. I lost the weight I’d wanted to lose for a long time. I took up running and found a group of people to run with. And I’ve been cooking and eating healthier foods.
  • I enjoyed both quality time and quantity time with my family. We along with our young-adult children took two fun vacations, which both included weddings.
  • I enjoyed my work as Church Librarian. I got a poem published and read it at an Open Mic evening. My husband and I enjoyed our volunteer work in Worldwide Marriage Encounter.
  • However, I got very little writing done in 2014.
  • And it was an expensive year for my family. We had to replace our roof and siding, and we bought a new car.
  • I spent too much time in shadow comforts. Jennifer Louden defines shadow comforts as “any choices that masquerade as self-care but in fact drain your energy, numb you out, or fuel the story that you can’t be trusted to be good to yourself.” In my case, that meant checking Facebook and emails several times a day, which led to Internet surfing. At the end of the day, what had I gained? Not much.
  • I’ve been frustrated lately with being “Ms. Responsible.” There is nothing wrong with being responsible except that I was getting stressed fighting fires for other people. And that was partly my own fault. I have taught people that I respond quickly and jump in to fix things. I suspect some of these issues would have resolved themselves if I weren’t so responsive.

The purpose of looking at one’s past like this is not to beat oneself up but to observe. We can’t change anything if we don’t think about what we want to change.

Next, I journaled about what I want to do in 2015. I want to be more focused and get more writing done. I want to help manage our money better by purchasing less (e.g. stop wasting food.) I want to get caught up with my work as church librarian. I want to keep running and walking and stay fit and below my goal weight. I’d like to earn some money. I want to finally write a book—a mystery novel.

Here is my action plan to achieve my goals.

  • I don’t want to give up Facebook and emails entirely. There are concrete things I get from Facebook (for example, I’m in a group that holds me accountable for getting exercise. And other groups give me inspiration to keep fit and keep my weight down. But I will cut back on my use of Facebook starting immediately– allowing myself to dip in just twice a day for 10 minutes each. I will only check emails two times a day.
  • Most of my computer time will be spent writing. I’ve started using an app that will “catch” how much time I spend Internet surfing, writing, etc.
  • Continue to go to weekly Weight Watchers meetings even though I’ve met my goal. I want to maintain my healthy weight and lifestyle.
  • Keep running and walking with my running group whenever possible. That commitment gets me out the door and moving.

Finally, I decided to set an intention for the year. You’ve probably heard about deciding on “one word” about how you want to be or one word to focus on for the year. I tossed about several words and decided my word to focus on in 2015 is “Integrity.” Sue Paige of Pathways Seminars says, “Integrity is a simple concept yet difficult for many of us to do. Integrity is where your actions meet your words. So simple.”

That is how I want to be in 2015. What about you?

What are your shadow comforts? (Examples: excessive use of computer, smart phones, TV, drinking, escape reading, etc.)

What do you want in 2015?

Posted in Journal, New Year, retreat | Tagged , , | 14 Comments

Walking the Talk

“How can you sing of amazing grace and all God’s wonders without using your hands?” – Mahalia Jackson 

Thanksgiving Day is over in the United States, and we’ve talked about thankfulness a great deal. But do we act grateful?

A local running store sponsors a 5K Turkey Trot each year, and an employee told me that some people who had come in for race packets were rude to the volunteers. I wonder if they realized their behavior was incongruous. These individuals were unkind to volunteers administering a race so these same individuals could run as a means of thanksgiving.

In general, running the Turkey Trot is a good way to express gratitude because it benefits a charity. It is also a way to do something fun with our families and work off calories before the Thanksgiving feast.

I started thinking about the Turkey Trot three months ago, wondering if I could use the race to motivate myself to lose weight. I set goals:

  • Run the race at my goal weight.
  • Run the entire race, not walk any of it.
  • Beat my times from recent years—the fastest of which was 36:33.

But what would make me actually do these things? These were ambitious goals for someone who hadn’t been running and still had several pounds to lose. What reward would motivate me to stick with it?

I decided if I accomplished all my goals for the race, I would let myself rent Season 1 of Downton Abbey and enjoy a Downton Abbey marathon. I have never watched the show because I try not to watch much television, especially since I already spend too much time in front of a different screen – my computer. But I knew I would love it.

I trained for the Turkey Trot by running three to four times a week. One day I ran 3.6 miles without walking, so I knew that unless I got injured, I could do 3.1. The day before the race I was still slightly above my goal weight, but on Thanksgiving morning, I was below it. Thank you, God!

I lined up with the 11:30 pace runners, set up my MP3 player for music and a running app on my smart phone and got ready to run. I didn’t look around at the other runners. Instead I soaked up the excitement and used it as fuel to run the race.

One person I could not ignore was a tall young man, an amputee with a hook replacing his right leg under his knee. We were neck-and-neck for the first couple of miles—after that I was so focused on my own race that I no longer saw him. Clearly, I’m not a speed demon–a couple of years ago, a race walker beat me.

As I ran, I thought, “I am running for the glory of God.” This might seem melodramatic for such a short race, but I did feel some truth to it. Keeping my body fit and healthy is a way to give thanks for the gift of my body and my life.

I had practiced finishing strong, and the end of this race was no exception. When my running app told me I’d run 2.9 miles, I turned on the speed. People were lined up along the streets, cheering for runners. If someone shouted, “Go, Amy!” or “Way to go, Bill,” I pretended they were shouting “Go, Sue! Finish strong.”

I crossed the finish line with a joyful feeling of accomplishment. I had done it.

In past years, I often thought, “I should have trained more, I should have lost weight, I should have worked harder.” This time, I had prepared and I finished with a time of 34:37. I will fully enjoy my reward of a Downton Abbey marathon.

But even more, I’ll enjoy the reward of having no regrets.

Do your words and actions express gratitude? What are your fitness goals and how will you reward yourself when you complete them?

Posted in God, Gratitude, Healthy living, personal leadership, Running, Weight | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Leaving a Legacy: Tina

“So long as the memory of certain beloved friends lives in my heart, I shall say that life is good.” — Helen Keller

Every fall, I go to Northern Illinois University’s Homecoming football game. From this, you might guess I went to that school or am a fan of Huskies’ football. Neither is true. I go to honor and remember my friend Tina, who passed away 12 years ago.

Tina, Georgia, and I shared an apartment after we all graduated from college. They were both NIU alumni and Huskies’ fans, and Tina never missed a Homecoming. Even when she had five little children and going to the football game was not feasible, Tina and her husband Jim brought the family to NIU anyway, and they hung out outside the stadium.

Georgia (left), Tina (center) and me at Tina’s house

I did not attend the NIU Homecoming events when Tina was alive. My youngest daughter, Mel, started going before I did. Tina’s two daughters, Lindsey and Sarah, Georgia’s daughter, Lara, and Mel have a strong friendship forged from the strong friendship of their parents. Our kids always called us “Aunt Tina,” “Aunt Georgia,” and “Aunt Sue.”

Every year, Georgia gives us the agenda for the Homecoming events. The times vary, but the activities are always the same. The Homecoming parade kicks off the events on either Friday or Saturday. One year, NIU did not schedule a parade. Tina wrote to the school and complained, and they’ve never skipped it again.

Most of our group arrives on Saturday morning and we meet at Tina’s grave. At her request, Tina is buried in DeKalb near NIU. Even though she had no relatives in the area, Tina loved being on that campus. Jim, who is now remarried, says a prayer, and we all tell stories of Tina. How she lived her life with passion. How she celebrated every one of her kids’ birthdays and every holiday with a party. How she helped out at the school and church. How she worked part-time at the Newberry Library and taught at NIU while working towards a Ph.D. in History. Her oldest child, Jason, was 16 when Tina passed away from breast cancer, and Sarah, her youngest child, was 9.

I was fortunate to be with Tina, her family, and other close friends when she took her last breath. She had written clear instructions for her “Celebration of Life” (her funeral Mass.) She wrote, “After a most solemn and beautiful liturgy, there should be a great party.” And there was.

How Tina juggled everything is beyond my comprehension. No one is perfect, and at times Tina was visibly stressed. However, she usually handled everything with an apparent ease. She cooked homemade dinners daily, baked from scratch, and created a book of “Our Holiday Traditions” for her family. Tina treated herself every night to a tiny piece of chocolate or a homemade cookie. For exercise, she walked everywhere possible. She weighed less than 100 pounds and was a 4’11” dynamo.

After remembering Tina at her grave, we go to the campus bookstore, where we purchase NIU memorabilia to show our Huskies’ pride.

Then it’s on to the East Campus lagoon. We always bring bread to feed the ducks and geese, even though in recent years, they haven’t been interested. Some of us throw around a football, and we walk around the lagoon.

Pizza Hut is next on the agenda. No, we don’t particularly like Pizza Hut, but it is part of the tradition. Cheap pizza was essential when Tina and Jim had five hungry kids, and Tina was thrifty. This year was one of our most sparse as far as our friends’ attendance. Tina’s and Georgia’s fellow alumnus Eric was there, as he is every year. Georgia’s husband Bill and daughter Lara, and Jim, Lindsey, and Sarah all came, along with my husband Ken.

After Pizza Hut, we walk to the football game, and we always wander around the tailgaters looking for some of Tina and Georgia’s old friends. We haven’t seen any of them in recent years, but we still look. One of the highlights of the game is the NIU jazz band. I remember Tina talking about the jazz band with pride many times. She loved their music.

Marching jazz band at 2013 NIU Homecoming

Marching jazz band at 2013 NIU Homecoming

Our activities don’t end with the football game. We always go out to “The Junction” restaurant for dinner after the game—and we always order cinnamon rolls to take home. After all, that is what Tina did.

Tina left quite a legacy behind and not just our annual routine of going to NIU in her memory. Her legacy teaches the value of traditions. Of following your passion. Of doing your best. Of going the extra mile to keep friendships strong. Of helping others. Of the comfort of homemade food. Of loving your family.

And so our annual tradition of going to NIU’s Homecoming to honor Tina will continue. We may shed a few tears at her grave, but mostly we will laugh and enjoy.

And we will remember.

Have you thought about the legacy you will leave behind? What would you like people to remember about you?


Posted in Friendship, Making a Difference, Talent | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

Finding Support

“Was it you or I who stumbled first? It does not matter. The one of us who finds the strength to get up first, must help the other.” ― Vera Nazarian

We all try to do things on our own and that’s great. But if we’re not having success, why do we keep working at it alone? Why don’t we ask for support?

When I was young, I took graduate-level Computer Science classes one summer. The program was intense—two classes in four weeks—and required a Computer Science or Engineering background. Being a Math major, I had neither. Yet I stubbornly did not ask for help. Instead, I was miserable working alone on the coursework. I got through it, but did not return in subsequent summers to attain a Master’s degree.

book-15584_1280Over time, I’ve learned that it’s OK to ask for support. After my husband and I had children, I joined a moms’ group for those who had left a career to raise their family.

More recently, I had wanted to lose weight for a few years before I finally joined a weight loss group and quickly lost ten pounds. What I’ve found in the group is accountability. We weigh in every week at meetings. Other members provide camaraderie and tips on losing weight. We share our stories of success and ways to overcome temptations. Now I am at a healthy weight, and the support of the group helps me keep the excess weight off. Why didn’t I join sooner?

Sometimes a group can provide support without being a formal support group. In a Walk & Talk group for women, we talked about a self-improvement topic while walking. I’ve also been in groups for job seekers when I was unemployed. I am lucky to live in the Chicago suburbs, where one can find many groups. One place to look for a group is

A good way to find support for one’s marriage is to attend a Worldwide Marriage Encounter Weekend ( Couples who have attended can join a local WWME community and meet other couples who serve as role models. My husband Ken and I lead a local group.

Other ways to find support are to start a new group, to look for a supportive social media group, and to partner with a friend. My friend Karen and I meet once or twice a week and walk 3 to 4 miles.

A couple of years ago, my friend Krishna and I had a writing-accountability partnership. Krishna lives in Atlanta but we checked in with each other on Skype and reviewed each other’s work. Having that appointment gave me good motivation to write.

Several years ago, I was in a running group that made running fun. Everyone cheered for each other and shared a passion for running. Unfortunately, the group eventually disbanded and I stopped running. Now I’m running again and am searching for someone to run with on weekdays. The other day, I ran at a local arboretum and saw a small group of women running. Boldly, I asked if they were part of a running group. They were not, they were simply a group of friends running that day, but I’m confident I’ll find the right support soon. Meanwhile, I post my workouts in a Facebook group and receive “likes,” which inspires me to exercise daily.

What about you? Is there a goal you’ve been trying to meet without success? Have you looked for support?



Posted in Encouragement, Running, Support, Weight | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Needing to Focus

“Listen for the call of your destiny, and when it comes, release your plans and follow.”
― Mollie Marti

The end of summer always makes me feel restless. I ask myself what do I want to do this fall? Some activities are a given: my work as church librarian. Being a community coordinator with my husband for Worldwide Marriage Encounter. Going to adoration, a weekly prayer service, and Sunday Mass. I firmly believe in exercise, so I will continue to walk every day. And let’s not forget Weight Watchers meetings! I need that support.

But what about the local women’s club, which I was part of for the past two years? What about Bible Study, which is taught at a local convent by an extremely knowledgeable nun? I enjoyed her class last year, and she is offering another course this fall. What about my faith sharing group, which I’ve been part of for two decades?

Each of these activities is good. The problem is that doing all these things keeps me from writing. When I’m not doing the above, I’m grocery shopping, doing social media, reading, or socializing.

Last year, I was an off-again on-again member of a WordWeavers group (a Christian writing group.) I’d like to go consistently, but I need to write items for review to make that time productive. There’s also a secular writers’ group that I’d like to join again. And I recently found out a friend will be teaching a class based on the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

How does one decide? The problem with all these scattered interests is that I seldom sit down and write–and I feel called to be a writer. I told my daughter Katie, “I have so many interests. Everything that comes up appeals to me.”

She answered, “You’re always going somewhere. Maybe all these activities help you avoid writing.” Hmm. Maybe so.

I hid out with my journal to ponder this, because journaling helps me reflect and make decisions. I realized it is good when I am not overwhelmed with activities, because that is when I feel like writing. What if I made the radical decision to drop out of faith sharing. Not sign up for Bible Study. Not renew my women’s club membership. Other than my givens, what if I were to focus on activities that are related to writing? What if I joined the two Writers Groups and sat down to write more often so I have something to bring to these groups?

And what about that Artist’s Way class? I had trouble making this decision so I journaled, prayed, and did a mindmap. The class is not directly about writing, but I need to start thinking and acting like a writer-artist if I want to succeed at writing. I need support in changing to a writer’s lifestyle, which I find attractive. The Artist’s Way encourages us to write every day and to take artist’s dates. It also teaches that creativity is a gift from God. I have decided to take this class.

What about you?

Have you taken time to assess your activities and whether they are in line with your goals? Have you ever given up the good for the better?


Posted in Christian, Inspiration, Intentional Living, Journal, Leading Ourselves, personal leadership | Tagged , , , , , | 26 Comments

Making the Commitment

“Commitment fuels action. Get clear about what you want to do and why you want to do it. Take action. Your time is now!” – Julie Connor, author

We are past the midpoint of 2014. How are you doing on your New Year’s resolutions or other goals?

One of my resolutions for the past few years was to lose weight, at least ten pounds. However, I didn’t do much about it. But after being invited to my nephew Trevor’s destination wedding in Cancun this summer, I finally decided to take action. The hotel was all-inclusive for food and drinks, and I knew I’d probably gain weight. I thought, “I’ve got four weeks before the wedding. I wonder if I could lose a few pounds before I go.” I journaled about the questions “Why do I want to lose weight?” and “Why don’t I want to lose weight?”

The last might seem like an odd question, but if we say we want to do something and aren’t doing it, we do have reasons. Some of mine were:

  • My schedule is busy enough and I don’t want to add weight-loss meetings.
  • It’s too hard—I don’t like having to track everything I eat.
  • I don’t like being hungry.
  • I won’t lose much weight in four weeks anyway.

My reasons for losing weight included:

  • I’m already having health issues that could be alleviated by losing weight.
  • My pants have gotten too tight and I refuse to go up a size.
  • I want to look better for this and another wedding.
  • I want to have more energy so my husband Ken and I can travel and enjoy ourselves.
  • Walking and getting back to running will be easier if I am not carrying excess weight.
  • Instead of just writing about taking care of ourselves, I need to do it. I need to live the way I want to live.

Seeing my reasons in black and white made me realize I had more reasons to lose weight than not to, and my reasons for not losing weight were really excuses. I had good reasons to lose weight and seeing them on paper gave me the commitment to actually change.

I have lost about ten pounds since then and still have about five pounds to lose. My eating habits have become healthier, including eating more fruits and vegetables.

I did gain over a pound while in Cancun but it was OK since I’d lost some weight first. I had a great time and enjoyed getting tropical drinks at the swim-up bar!

Last weekend, my family and I spent two days in Chicago with my niece and another nephew. Despite the heat, I had plenty of energy to walk for miles and miles, and we all had a lot of fun.

Now I am looking forward to a vacation down south and being fit enough to enjoy a lot of sightseeing.

What changes do you want to make for better health? What will it take for you to make the commitment?

Posted in Empowerment, Healthy living, Inspiration, Intentional Living, Leading Ourselves, Motivation, personal leadership, Proactive, self-care, Uncategorized, Weight | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments