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Lent and Love

I was in downtown Chicago today, and I wanted to start my day with ashes. Not flowers, chocolate, or heart-filled cards. Ashes.

I checked the schedule at Old St Pat’s Church and saw that they were going to distribute ashes at Union Station from 7:30-9:30am. Cool, I thought.

Being from the southside, I only know the LaSalle Street and South Shore Train stations in Chicago. I logged into Google Maps and ventured on my walk toward Canal and Jackson.

As I entered into the gorgeous, nearly 100-year-old train depot, I had flashbacks of our trip to Ellis Island in New York. The massive open space holds such promise for those arriving for work, job interviews, jaunts to the big city, visits with friends, explorations through museums, walks along spectacular Lake Michigan.

The difference is that these travelers aren’t leaving their families, homes, and roots forever. Well, maybe some of them are.

People hustled in and out of deep tunnels and glass doors while I roamed and marveled and sought out somebody in a black and white collar with an urn. No luck.

I opted for 12:10 mass at Old St Pat’s. The Broadway-esk cantor moved me as she sang about how our shared journey makes us one. Father Pat Mc Grath hit the homily out of the park, and I was left sobbing at the final hymn asking God to take me as I am, monkey mind and all. I wonder if God caught me admiring haircuts as women returned from Communion.

Mass. Ash Wednesday mass. Reminders of who we are plastered on our foreheads. I really am dust. Dust thinking about my next hairdo.

The homily was about how Lent is a time to pause, and Father drew parallels between our Covid experiences of loss and gain and the collective pause many Christians take in the next 40 days.

Lent – prayer, alms giving, sacrifice – all on Valentine’s Day, all in the name of Love.

Father McGrath reflected on how during Covid, the priests would linger with each other in the evenings, grateful for human connection during a time of isolation. I am not so hot at lingering. I’m afraid of wasting people’s time. I usually do what I’m supposed to do and scram.

Linger. Stay with that feeling – to linger. My imagination went to moments with my grandchildren when I just want to linger, to stroke their faces and be with them. When I want to linger over dinner with Tim. I don’t want the evening to end, so I order dessert. Or I linger by my car with a friend after a walk in the Dunes because I don’t want our time to end. I linger over passages in a novel, or scripture, or poetry, or songs.

I’m going to linger more this Lent. I want to soak it in – the love, the learning, the feeling, the epiphany – like a hoarder, but not like a hoarder because I want to give it away.

I struggle with this. I want to listen really really hard, feel it, grasp it, hold it, write it (when I can hang on to it long enough), share it.

I walked back from church, lingering in the big city life, the architecture, the amazing creativity, the engineering feats of criss-crossed highways, the old and new bridges, the people – everywhere.

I thought about lingering in love, not shying away from it, not ducking out when someone’s compassion feels like too much to bear, someone’s depth of beauty too deep to grasp – to stay with it. Maybe then it will build inside of me and spill out somewhere and remind us that we are not alone.


My mom passed away a year ago. There’s so much I want to ask her, especially this week. Why didn’t I ask her when she was alive? I ask her now while I’m out on my walks, but the answers are pretty unclear.

When I first started training with Presence-based Coaching in Asheville, North Carolina, in 2016, the cohort read The Mindful Coach: Seven Roles for Facilitating Leader Development by Doug Silsbee. Silsbee explores mindfulness, awareness, and seven basic voices used in coaching: the Master, the Partner, the Investigator, the Reflector, the Teacher, the Guide and the Contractor.

During one of the activities at my first coaching conference, the trainers Sarah and Bebe placed placards displaying the names of the different voices in parts of the room. They reviewed the basics of each modality and asked us to move toward the questioning voice we use most often.

My peers gravitated in different directions, some with conviction, others with uncertaintly. I stayed still.

Sarah asked me why I stood in the center of the room.

“Because I can’t use any of these voices.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s none of my business.”

“What’s none of your business?”

“People’s lives. I was raised in a culture of MYOB – Mind Your Own Business.”

Sarah was speechless.

That evening, I journaled about whether or not this leadership coaching thing was for me. MYOB never bothered me. I was good with it. I was safe. Questions can get a little dicey. I knew I needed to address this fundamental sense of my place in the world.

I am sensitive to the dances between intimacy and privacy, connection and autonomy. In the context of coaching, I freely ask questions. It’s expected, necessary, and enlightening. Growth and discomfort don’t sit in the same room.

When I talk with a friend, I am careful. I prefice inquiries, “Do you mind if I ask a coaching question?” as if to emphasize that this is not really me asking, it’s me acting as if I was a coach.

After eight years of extensive training, I admit that I am a coach. I am slow with identity shifts.

Most people will ask, “What sport?”

That safe question that does not violate the MYOB rule. Kind of like asking about a restaurant, or a recipe, or a good book, or a beautiful park, or a deal at Marshall’s or the price of blueberries at Aldi.

Few people ask about what really matters – love, loss, mental illness, faith, terror, lab results, pain, parenting, purpose, joy, awe, eternal life.

With my mom gone, I sit with a lot of unknowing, just like I did when she was alive. She did not like questions. She was private. And that is something that is really cool about her. Hence my tug-of-war with my new life’s work.

Last year, I asked my mom what it was like to be married to my dad.

She paused, reflected and replied, “He was quiet. He liked a good time.”

I didn’t ask for more.

Each moment is a chance to start over. I feel aquiver, I ask myself what’s happening, I take a deep breath, accept that I don’t know, and . . . feel better.

The “what’s happening?” intervention is based in neuroscience. To over simplify, It makes my brain flip from the right side – emotional, scared, apprehensive – to the left side – logic and reason. My brain doesn’t hang out long on the left, but the brief reprieve from the turmoil on the right works wonders. It provides a fresh look at the upheavel in my mind.

Sometimes I look around at all the people I pass on my walks, and I wonder what is going on in their brains. Who are they praying for? What are they fretting about? What are they planning? What furniture are they rearranging in their heads? (I do this a lot.)

This week has been a rough week. The shit hit the fan. The fan is unpredictable. I try to make sense of patterns. It is related to last weekend’s full moon? Trying to find patterns is a way of shifting from right to left, from despair to figuring it out – even though I know there is no figuring anything out except math. And I stink at that.

We all have stuff that could break us down, but we don’t let it. I think of friends fighting debilitating disease, parents with ill children, homeowners with major water damage, renters who can’t pay the rent, adults witnessing the deterioration of parents, workers losing their jobs, people lost in isolation, poverty, homelessness.

We can live in the swirl and spin constantly. Or we can settle into this moment of what’s happening – life.

A friend said this week – “life is life.” And it is blessed.

Sometimes I feel like I am living in a tilt-a-whirl, and I have friends who serve as my focal point so I don’t fall down. If I do, they pick me up.

When I pull my head up out of grief, sadness, fear, uncertainty, tension, disagreement, despair, I see light, love, Grace, and Spirit – in community. We are indeed all in this together.

Remember the Hamill Camel in the 1976 Olympics? Dorothy Hamill’s amazing spin (and incredible hair)? Like her, we come out of it!

We are indeed “having the time of our life” in each moment, regardless of what it brings.

I’m done with

I’m done with

high heels, medium heels, any heel that hurts my feet.

cold oatmeal at hotels.

Cheetos, Doritos, Tostitos, and anything that ends in tos.


Bring on


time with family, friends, and fellow seekers and sharers.


Conner Bedard.


negativity, bitterness.

“You’re stupid” people.

caring what people think.

anything that makes me sit too long.


openness, trust.


friendships – new and old.

humor, humility.

acceptance of what is.





Thank you for this moment

“I’m not worthy that You should enter under my roof.”

“Only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

Jim Cornelison, the National Anthem, Blackhawks games.

the power of hope and spirit as the freedom flag waves.

Bottle this last bit of gratitude, please.

I may need it in a pinch.

Oh wait; it’s always there.

“You Must Be Mistaken.”

“You must be mistaken.”

I wonder how many people say that to the nurse I saw on Monday.

“Go in Room One, take off your shoes, and come out and step on the scale,” she rotely commanded.

Prior to this OB Gyn check-up, my friend Molly and I walked in the Indiana Dunes – in spite of frigid, biting below-zero windchills that sliced into our habitual catch-up time. We are committed, or maybe we should be committed.

With not-yet-warmed red hands, I stepped into Room One, shivered, and reluctantly took off my boots, my ski pants, and my heavy wool sweater. I considered getting naked and donning the hospital gown before getting weighed, but I was too cold.

I met the firm nurse in the hallway and stepped on the scale. She measured my height as the digital screen scrutinized my weight.

“Oh,” she said. “You lost an inch.”

Kindly, I replied, “You must be mistaken,” and stepped off the scale to establish compassionate eye contact with her.

“No,” she said. “You’re 5’3″.”

“I’m 5’4″,” I corrected while maintaining my convincing gaze.

“Step back on. Stand up straight,” She conceded. No chit-chat from this lady. I stepped on and stood tall.

The stern voice said, “You are 5’3″. You were 5’4″ at your last visit.”

Where the heck did that inch go?

While meeting with Dr. Cheryl Short (I am not making this up), she instructed me to take D3, drink milk, eat dairy, and snack on almonds. I do this daily – with joy. I now believe I would be 5’1″ if I was an almond hater.

Bring on the nuts.

Happy New Year

“If you don’t change your habits, you won’t have a new year. You’ll have another year.”

This quote from a woman of wisdom has been haunting me for two weeks.

I have a lot of good physical health habits: exercise, nutritional eating until 7:00pm, D3, flossing, regular check-ups, and sleep. No drugs. No booze.

Emotionally, I stay connected to great friends, and I love my husband, children and grandchildren with my whole heart and soul. I laugh a lot. People are funny and inspiring, especially the people I’m blessed to hang around.

Spiritually, I read scripture and inspiration daily, and I am thankful. I spend many moments in a state of wonder and awe whether I am with others or alone. My prayer life is based in love. I try to focus on the person who needs prayers and to really contemplate their suffering and joy. I cry a lot.

I try to practice presence, especially when I’m listening. I wish I had been like this when I had a house full of small children. I missed a lot, and I see that now in the absolute beauty of my grandchildren. I accept that I cannot turn back time. I made a load of mistakes, and I’m grateful for the lessons and the opportunity to start new each day.

I love talking about books and shared learning experiences. Time flies in pure engagement.

I love my work, facilitating meetings, hearing other people’s stories, learning how they integrate new ideas into their lives. I love coaching and am fascinated by others’ way of seeing the world and their place in it. I marvel at differences. They are the coolest.

It all feels like so much this morning. There is so much good – I can’t figure out a way to give it away. How do I make a new year?

A great friend said to me, “Why do I do all these things and learn all these things? It’s not like I’m going to be perfect.” As she deliberated about the end goal of living a fully engaged life, I thought about how she is beautifully and perfectly imperfect , like all of us. We all struggle.

Accepting the premise that my end goal is to create new year, I made a list of all the things I could do that could make 2024 new:

Yoga – I signed up and attended a couple of great classes. I can’t seem to fit those spirit-lifting classes into the limited 24 hours in a day. How often is enough?

Nutrition – knock off the 7-8:00 food fiesta. Oh boy. This is a work in progress as this habit is deeply ingrained in my evening ritual. I am starting slowly with binging on almonds – rather than Hershey’s kisses.

Connect with family – my grown children are living full lives. They aren’t longing for weekly existentail chats with Mom. I’ve hinted. No go. I think the idea behind the new year quote is for me to change my habits, not impose new ones on others, let alone my happy kids.

Write – I’m doing it now. So there.

Happy new year! 🙂

No Even Though

This morning’s journal prompt was a stress check -in.

I wrote: I am happy, healthy, and out-of-town with Tim. I feel calm and at peace  … even though all hell is breaking loose with one of our kids.

“Even though” – what is that?

“All hell?” – toughen up Nance. 

“Even though” is life. 

Five years ago, incapable of verbalization, I told my mom that one of our adult kids had run away. She asked, “What did you say?” I gave it another go and found a few words. A few minutes later, she asked, “What’s new?” With a smidge more articulation, I told her again. A few minutes later, she inquired, “What new?” Stronger yet, I repeated the sentence. By the fifth round, I was no longer weeping. 

God works in mysterious ways . . . even through dementia. 

On another visit, I gave another update. My mom advised, “Don’t think about it. It’s not that hard.” Plain and simple. Humph. This was inconceivable to me as my loss seeped through my pores and permeated my soul. I could not get a grip.  

I cried for three years. I questioned the meaning of life, the purpose of living, the myth of the big happy family. Stark days were warmed by my other children and friends who pulled me into the light.   

Ghostbusters’ theme song took on significant meaning – “Who you gonna call?”

I called, and most family members and friends shared their flames. Loved ones phoned me, and I’d be amazed that I had light to share in their time of need. Some checked on me. Some sensed when I was going down under. Many miraculously revealed to me my lingering light. Such love made me cry – everything did back then .   

I consulted with professionals, read medical journals, devoured memoirs, and talked way too much about personal stuff. I got the sense that people were pushing acceptance. I fought that battle and am grateful to have lost.

I went to daily mass. Gospels about demons rocked my world. Where were these miracles today?

“Be not afraid.” 

“Peace be with you.”

“I will not forsake you.”

Mantras are miraculous.   

This spring, Richard Rhor’s Falling Upward course emphasizes daily meditation – “Be still and know that I am.”

I did not want to be still. I wanted some fixing. And I wanted it fast in times of panic.

There is no fixing. There is no even though. There is just what is.

I am not alone. None of us are. We all have suffering. 

Grief, confusion, and loss don’t have to take center stage. I stay with the lengthy monologues. I let them play out. Then I sing with the chorus. And I get back in the dance. 

All hell is not breaking loose. It is not new. It has always been around. And it always will be.

And God and goodness prevail, in you and in me and in everyone, and in everything (Richard Rhor’s The Universal Christ). Even in people with differing realities. 

We get to live Grace loud and clear . . .  even when expressing it is hard. When I can’t find my voice, I seek the lesson, the love . . . in the sensation. There is no shame in big feelings.  

In every moment, “God comes to you disguised as your life.” – Paula D’Arcy (from Richard Rhor’s Falling Upward)

You Spot It – You Got It

Jim Dethmer, author, coach and founder of The Conscious Leadership Group, says when something about someone bothers you, that something is probably within you. “You spot it – you got it.” After participating in a dozen of Dethmer’s online lectures, I still could not get past the judgment or unease or anger or intolerance of some people’s behaviors. 

I first came across this concept in 2010 when Brendan gave me Meditations from the Mat: Daily Reflections on the Path of Yoga by Katherine Kenison and Rolf Gates. One of the offerings said that if there’s something you find irritating about a yoga instructor, the behavior is probably one that you don’t like about you.

For years, when I notice that something about somebody really bugs me, I have tried to identify what is happening within me and to reconcile it, to be loving. No go. I still judged: good – bad, like – dislike.

And I wanted to get past this. I want to be all loving, good, kind, joyful. Not liking is not part of my long-term plan.  

I took courses which introduced non-dualism taught by Cythina Bourgeaut, Richard Rhor, James Finley, Thich Nat Hahn, and Father Thomas Keating. Hahn and Keating are monks, Buddhist and Catholic. I am no monk. 

Richard Rhor often quotes Duns Scotis’ beautiful perspective on “thisness,” being with what is. I can grasp thisness, especially in the realm of the Serenity Prayer. The older I get, the more I know there is very little I can control. Thank God for God. I can trust in what is, and I can be where I am without bolting into future perils. 

Ram Das’ Be Here Now is quite the hippy masterpiece on staying in the present. The repeated mantra of being with what is grounds me.

In her Ted Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability,” Brene Brown relays her first interaction with her therapist and says to her, “It’s really bad, isn’t it?” And the therapist replies, “It’s neither good nor bad. It just is.” And Brown says, “This is gonna suck.”

My Aunt Aggie recommended I read Richard Rhor’s Just This, and the tiny text was my companion at my mother’s hospice bedside along with Rhor’s Jesus’ Alternative Plan: The Sermon on the Mount. 

Countless resources remind us to stay with what is. Don’t judge (Jesus says this umpteen times in the Gospels). But the stirring continues, the unrest, the desire to understand. Saint Francis said, “Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand.” 

I want to understand what is going on when I sense impatience, irritability, dislike. I am not trying to be a saint. I’m trying to figure this out.   

Then I read Holly Whittaker’s Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol. Whittaker’s book attacks patriarchal systems and Big Alcohol. I plowed through it, and then I got to Chapter 13: “Hell is Other People.”

The chapter begins with words from Cynthia Occelli (I have no idea who she is):

“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”

My synapses fired to the idea that a grain of wheat has to fall and die in order to bear fruit (John 12:24).

All of this stuff is connected, somehow. 

Whittaker quotes, “There’s something about that guy I don’t like about myself” (Unknown source).  

She describes interactions with a colleague who does not like her, and she tries everything to change this. She works it. She digs deeper and deeper into her need to be liked, her dislike of this guy, and his dislike of her. She wants to be a good Christian. She’s sober and has come a long way on her journey, and she cannot figure out this obstacle to inner peace. (Whittaker swears like a truck driver, and her booze-driven behavior is beyond. Just sayin’ in case you pick it up.)

Then she has the revelation that in wanting to be accepted and liked by this guy and in wanting to like him, she was “denying [her] humanity. . . . He was a mirror of the parts of me I couldn’t stand. In other words, he was my shadow, embodied. The shadow – a concept in Jungian psychology – represents the things present in ourselves that we disassociate from because we deem them bad, ugly, dark, or inadequate. . . . The more we judge others, the more likely we are judging our own shadows” (271).  

“The answer was to use the things I saw in him as unlovable and intolerable as a blueprint for how to love and forgive myself. . . . It helped me to see that the things I can’t stand about other people are little nuggets of treasure in plain sight” (272).

Most of us have learned that when faced with someone who is difficult and challenging, we are given the opportunity to learn and grow. There’s a saying that “comfort and growth don’t sit in the same room.” People can be tough. That’s life. But when I’m triggered, I am curious about what is happening. I have not thought of it as being frustrated with something I see in me – annoying tendencies – or behaviors I wish I could adopt but feel restricted by who knows what.  

Stay with me. I’m quoting a lot. I know. But Whittaker really nailed it for me, and maybe this will mean something to you. Or maybe I’m completely wacky. 

“When we condemn a behavior in someone else – and recognize that it is simply a reflection of us – we empower ourselves to make peace with what we find unacceptable in ourselves; to remember we are not made only of good parts, that we are all of it, and therefore we must try to love all of it – in ourselves and each other. . . . When we recognize ourselves in others, we discover our capacity to truly love and be loved.” 

You spot it, you got it, now love it. I can’t change others. I can change me. Thank God.

Big stuff. Big insights. Big love. 

It’s hard to love others when you don’t love yourself or when you’re irritated with yourself. Maybe when Jesus said to take the log out of your own eye before you make a big deal about the sliver in someone else’s, he was inviting us to love the log. 

Productivity is Overrated

I just subscribed to Fabulous, a productivity habit tracking app. 

I want to be somebody else. I want to be productive and accomplished. 

I went through the initial steps on the app created by brilliant folks at Duke University. The first big milestone to conquer – based on the scholars’ recommendations – is to drink water. 

I clicked that I drank water – I got a flash of fabulous on my screen. 

When I scrolled for more positive behaviors (like writing daily), a warning popped up: 

Slow down! Don’t push it. Research indicates doing too much too soon does not work. 

I had already had my mug of hot lemon water – a new tidbit I started this week because I read that it is good for your liver, so clicking done felt like cheating. 

With impatience, I wondered, “Where in this app am I going to get the big shove to organize the dozens of chapters of Let Me Tell You: Lessons in Love and Life based on What Not to Do?”

Next, Fabulous asked about exercise. My book does not exist because I exercise. It is my thing and has been for forty years. Working out is my procrastination preference. I get on the Peloton (or do some other heart-pumping movement) 350/356 days a year. And I’m game for a walk anytime. 

Walking is my ticket to fake productivity. Ah, I should write. I think I’ll go for a walk and think about it. Poof! Time to get on a Zoom call. Where did the time go? 

I journal often, and according to Fabulous, this fulfills my creativity goal. Why don’t I feel, well, fabulous?  

This week, I also started meditating for five LONG minutes a few times a day. Today was easier. Maybe day four is the deal maker in feeling at one with myself and the universe.

After feasting on chocolate Easter bunnies and Swedish fish, I quit sugar three days ago. 

Fabulous warns I’m headed for failure. Better to commit to one thing at a time.  

Screw that. I want time to speed up and be the new me, the productive lady (yes, lady) who lives in the house on the hill who daily seeks and spews inspiration. 

Fabulous says – hold your horses.

I say – my stable is full.

The app prevents me from advancing to the deep stuff – like being really . . .  I’m not sure … but it is something big that makes a difference – that helps others know they are not alone in their fear, heartache, and sense of inadequecy and failure. I want others to embrace that life is so worth it, so quirky, to fascinating, so God-filled. I want to share the perspective that mistakes are God’s way of pointing us to happier paths.   

I think if I hurry up and adopt a bunch of productive, life-enhancing habits, I will create a new me. And then I’m curious about the outcome. I want it to be next month, so I can see a different Nancy in the mirror. Time feels sluggish.

And then, suddenly, I am grateful in the peace of the present. Tick slowly, clock. This is enough, this moment. I’m blessed.

And my “butt is in the chair” as Anne Lamott says about writing.  

And being right here is all I got, Fabulous or not. 

Ironic, isn’t it?