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Living the Rule of St. Benedict in Daily Life

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Our Coral Anniversary: 35 Years of Marriage

Jodi Blazek ❤️ Joseph Gehr, August 17, 1985

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A marriage is made of moments. When you string them all together, you get a picture of a life built together. A marriage isn’t made, once and for all, when the I-dos are exchanged. A marriage is constantly being recreated; it is always in the process of becoming.

A marriage goes through seasons: the spring of new life and hope, the summer of comfort and security, the autumn of changes and letting go, the winter of sadness and despair. A marriage will not survive without adapting to, enduring and celebrating the change of seasons. A marriage embraces all seasons.

A marriage provides a safe place to fall, a form of protection from the stresses of everyday life and also from more extreme challenges, like the pandemic we now face.  The traditional symbol for a 35th anniversary is coral, an organic material found in warm seas. Coral takes many years to form—much like the strength of a marriage made of moments. Coral is a symbol of protection—providing essential habitat structure and energy for 25% of the world’s ocean life, including young fish. How fitting that coral is the symbol of our 35th year of marriage, a year where we have found much safety in each other’s company.

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Visiting Jessica in Madison during the summer, 2020.

Marriage includes the necessary and mundane—doing laundry, taking out the trash, paying bills, fixing, washing, mowing, checking things off the list of things to do, arguing about checking things off, thanking each other for checking things off.

After 35 years of marriage, Joe and I have so many “remember when” moments, the makings of great storytelling or one-liners that no one else understands but us. Funny, sad, silly, stupid, poignant, heartwarming, memorable moments. Moments we’d like to forget and moments we have to forgive. But, mostly, moments that have helped us become who we are.

A marriage is made of moments. Some of our earlier moments: Continue reading “Our Coral Anniversary: 35 Years of Marriage”

The Vow of Stability: A Marriage Made of Moments

Jodi Blazek ❤️ Joseph Gehr, August 17, 1985

A marriage is made of moments. When you string them all together, you get a picture of a life built together. A marriage isn’t made, once and for all, when the I-dos are exchanged. A marriage is constantly being recreated; it is always in the process of becoming.

A marriage goes through seasons: the spring of new life and hope, the summer of comfort and security, the autumn of changes and letting go, the winter of sadness and despair. A marriage will not survive without adapting to, enduring and celebrating the change of seasons. A marriage embraces all seasons.

I believe more each day that it is only in the stability of marriage, enduring the weather of every season, that one can reap the true benefits of a life lived together. Advice to young couples: Stick with it. Don’t give up.  I promise, with effort, love, respect, and forgiveness, your marriage will endure and you will be so happy it did!

A marriage is made of moments.

Marriage includes the necessary and mundane—doing laundry, taking out the trash, paying bills, fixing, washing, mowing, checking things off the list of things to do, arguing about checking things off, thanking each other for checking things off. Continue reading “The Vow of Stability: A Marriage Made of Moments”

About SoulCollage® 

Cultivate your creativity and spirituality through a variety of prayerful, creative, and contemplative practices including SoulCollage®, praying with art, poetry, music, and more.

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SoulCollage® is an intuitive process using images to create personal cards. SoulCollage® helps name the parts of ourselves that we value and also want to work on as well as naming the parts of the Divine that we often overlook. A visual journal to discover your inner voice, this process can be a spiritual practice of tending soul while expressing self. People are amazed at the beauty of their cards and their ability to access their inner wisdom using images.

What is SoulCollage®?

 Collage is a creative and intuitive act of cutting and pasting images. Easy and accessible for all ages, it is a powerful form of self-reflection and prayer. Images can guide you to a new awareness and reveal a deeper level of thought and feeling. If you have never tried creating a collage, you will be amazed at what you can learn from this process. Holding an image in prayer is powerful; it is much more than just a craft project.

Creativity is about the process, not the product. It’s not a competition and it’s not a race. It’s about listening to self and spirit.

How to create a SoulCollage® card:

Step OneTo begin, gather some supplies—magazines, special photos and images, old calendars, scissors, glue sticks, pencil. Ideally, you will glue your images on a 5 x 8-inch card (available from SoulCollage® or from a hobby store cut into the desired size.) You may select any size you desire, but I’ve found that limiting the number of images and making critical decisions about what “belongs” in your collage is part of the practice. A working frame could be helpful in selecting the images that will fit on your card by cutting a 5 x 8-inch center out of a piece of cardstock or paper that is the same size as a SoulCollage® card.collage 2014

Step Two: Begin looking at images and setting aside those that tug at your heart. Often images just gravitate to you, so there is no need to hurry the process. Be contemplative about exploring images, selecting those that speak to you either positively or negatively. Perhaps an image disturbs or disgusts you, or you do not understand what draws you to an image—don’t be afraid, just go with it. If an image speaks to you, set it aside for possible use. It can often feel that an image selects you when you surrender to the process. Don’t think too much—trust the process when images “pull” at you.

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Step Three: When you find a collection you want to work with, start playing with two or three images that attract you and feel like they belong together. Loosely trim or tear them out of their original context and imaginatively place them in a new context by framing or fitting them together, using various arrangements and layering to increase an image’s visual power. Play with different backgrounds either horizontally or vertically. Let your intuition speak to you.

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Step Four: There are no hard-and-fast rules in SoulCollage®, but you might consider a few tips. First, it is a good idea to limit each card to a few images that represent the same mood or energy, and second, try not to use words in your cards. Words tend to pin down the meaning of a card, instead of allowing an open interpretation when working with your card later.

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Step Five: When it feels like your card is complete, cut carefully around the edges of final images, using smaller, sharp scissors for areas of detail. When gluing images down, use a lesser-quality magazine as a base, turning to a fresh page after gluing an image down (much less messy than a sticky kitchen table.) Smooth away wrinkles with a rolling pin, art roller or brayer and gently brush away glue rubbings.

Step Six: There are many ways to go deeper with creating, journaling, praying with or reading your cards since they are the reflection of your innermost thoughts and feelings. In the ancient prayerful practice of Lectio or Visio Divina, Latin for “divine seeing”, we allow words and images to speak into our hearts. See what you can learn by naming your card and journaling with “I Am One Who…” as a sentence starter. Using I am One Who StatementsA Great Light Has Come Upon the Earth.

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Some Creative Card Practices:
  • Create a card that expresses your prayer style, a prayerful expression, or an aspect of the Divine. For example: What names do you have for God? What are you praying for?
  • Create a card when you are in a positive emotional state, a negative one. Ask God for help understanding your emotions.
  • Find an image of an animal that draws you in. Think about why this image, this animal, appeals to you. We breathe life into our cards by speaking from them in the first person. What does your soul say?
  • Find 2 or 3 backgrounds that speak to you. Set the same image in front of each of them. How does the meaning of your card change?
  • “I am One Who” sharing. Roleplay in the first person rather than talking objectively about your card using “I am One Who…” Describe yourself as if you are the image. This is a different practice than writing “what this card means to me…” Consider where you are, what you are doing, what the image may want, need, fear, expect or intend. Keep saying IAOW…speak, speak, speak. It’s even better to practice this with someone who can write down what you say, or tape yourself and listen back.  Speaking is more right brain, writing is left brain. Journaling is revealing, but speaking brings something new. “I said that? 
  • Praying with your cards. Draw a card a day to hold in your heart throughout the day. What insights do you get about how to pray today?
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Creating with a Theme

Creating cards can be in response to prompts or themes, as in the Not-Just-For-Advent retreat, or can be intuitively created with no special purpose in mind. Here are some ideas based on the cards I have created:

Journaling with Your Cards
  • Responding to QuestionsWhat gifts do have to give me? What message do you have for me? What do you need from me? What are you afraid of? More exciting possibilities here.
  • Initiating PrayerStanding in the Flow
  • Writing Poetry— The Door is Open
Reading Your Cards
First Retreat Collage
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SoulFully You Retreats are a safe, sacred space for your own creative process to emerge, in your own way, in your own time, to become SoulFully You. Attend a scheduled retreat or invite me to plan a special program or retreat (many themes below) for your organization or group. Half-Day, Full Day, or Overnight Retreats available. Blog posts about SoulCollage® HERE.

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Future SoulFully You Retreats

June 1-3, 2022, St. Benedict Center

December 2-4, 2022, Advent, St. Benedict Center

February 3-5, 2023, Full Snow Moon, St. Benedict Center

May 5-7, 2023, Full Flower Moon, St. Benedict Center

December 1-3, 2023, Advent, St. Benedict Center

May 28-30, 2024, St. Benedict Center

December 13-15, 2024, Full Cold Moon, St. Benedict Center

June 10-12, 2025, Full Moon, St. Benedict Center

December 4-7, 2025 Advent, St. Benedict Center

By arrangement, many themes available.

SoulFully You Retreat Themes

Self and Spirit—honoring different parts of our self and qualities of the Divine

Discover Your Inner Monk—desire for silence, solitude and seeking God

Discover Your Inner Artist—cultivating intuition and creativity

Calm Your Inner Critic: Perfectionism, Expectations and Judgment

The Joy of Creativity—cultivating gratitude and joy through creativity

Personality and Prayer—a variety of prayer practices including music, creativity, words, movement and more.

Creativity as Prayer—a variety of creative prayer practices including SoulCollage®, creating mandalas and more.

Seasons of Your Life—Learning from the seasons of birthing, dying, transforming, solitude.

Journey to Wisdom—what is wisdom, seeking God, using your SoulCollage® cards to access inner wisdom

Awaken Your Creativity— You are Created in God’s Image, using creativity to grow spiritually

Circle of Stones—Explore the power of spiritual friendships and contemplative practices to ground you in the present moment; powerful retreat for a circle of friends.

Full Moon: Living in the Fullness of God

SoulFully You: A Journey—labyrinths, sacred walking, movement prayer and other contemplative practices

Lent and Advent Retreats

Benedictine Spirituality–prayer and work; obedience, stability, and conversion of life.

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Reflections on SoulFully You Retreats

Contact me if interested in planning or attending a retreat.

Something Old, Something New

After 36 years of marriage, Joe and I have so many “remember when” moments, the makings of great stories to be told over and over. This last year of marriage we are the “something old” in the cliche and “something new” was celebrated by welcoming our new son-in-law, John, when our daughter, Jessica and he were married on July 17, 2021.

So on August 17, 2021 we celebrate 36 years; John and Jessica celebrate one month. Something old, something new.

Joe and I on August 17, 1985 drinking fake champagne from glasses labeled Bride and Groom. We saved them for a “something new” moment.
Joe and I at John and Jessica’s wedding. July 17, 2021
And the “something new” couple using the same champagne glasses that Joe and used in 1985. We were honored to share them with the newlyweds.

A marriage is made of moments. When you string them all together, you get a picture of a life built together. A marriage isn’t made, once and for all, when the I-dos are exchanged. A marriage is constantly being recreated; it is always in the process of becoming. I shared this sentiment in a blessing at their wedding, see From This Day Forward, To Have and To Hold.

Continue reading “Something Old, Something New”

About Me

I am a high school business teacher and department chair just starting my 25th year as an educator.

My passion is practicing SoulCollage®, writing blog posts for my websites, Being Benedictine and SoulFully You, and leading retreats in creativity and spirituality.

I have been a Benedictine Oblate at Christ the King Priory since 2011. I am a lover of learning, reading, and writing and a compulsive curator of images, information and inspiration.

I have been married for 36 years and have one daughter, Jessica, 27 years old, who was just married this summer.

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Blessings as you explore Being Benedictine!

Jodi Blazek Gehr

A time for everything under the heavens

August Lectio Divina and Oblate Discussion

SourcesLectio Divina, Ecclesiastes 3:1-11, There is a time for everything under the heavens.

Come, let us worship God who holds the world and its wonders in his creating hand.

-Antiphon, Week 3 Saturday

Such an affirming antiphon for times when I think I am the glue that holds all things together. I am most definitely not. It is God who holds the world and its wonders in his creating head. And I just need to remember.

This morning, I remind myself of this as feelings of guilt creep in that I have not posted on behalf of my oblate family since April. Much has happened in this time for me: I finished a year of teaching during during a pandemic (how many people can say that?), I led a retreat, I went to a retreat, I helped my daughter plan her summer wedding, I helped my parents with health issues that surprised us ten days before the wedding AND most wonderfully, we celebrated the marriage of our daughter, Jessica, to John Holland. It has been a summer full of ALL of the emotions.

Much as happened, we can assume, in each of our lives. Knowing this, we can give ourselves and others compassion when we feel we are falling short, when we don’t meet the expectations we have placed on ourselves. Each of us has a story. There is a time for everything, and how wonderfully TIMELY is our lectio reading for today:

Continue reading “A time for everything under the heavens”

From This Day Forward, To Have and To Hold

“We have gathered today to celebrate the union of Jessica Gehr and John Holland. Marriage is a sacred blessing and this morning we celebrate the love shared between two special individuals.”

–Joyce Schmeeckle, wedding officiant and dear friend

We gathered—John and Jessica’s community, their friends and family—to support and bless their marriage. A wedding day conjures images of hearts and flowers, vows and wedding rings, first kisses and champagne toasts. Marriage is a sacred commitment where two people commit to journey through life together, so it is appropriate that the focus of the day is on the bride and groom. It is their BIG DAY!!

My daughter, Jessica, had her fairytale, storybook, dream-come-true wedding on July 17, 2021, and yes, indeed, she married her Prince Charming—we absolutely love our new son-in-law, John, and are so grateful that he adores our daughter. I remember when my husband and I got married, there was very little choice in what the day would look like. Tradition said this, the parents said that, the Catholic Church said this…but what I loved about John and Jessica’s wedding is that they created their own ceremony and carefully planned what their first day as husband and wife would look like.

The wedding guests, John and Jessica’s community, were an integral part of their wedding day—from who the officiant was, to parts of the ceremony, to the events planned to celebrate after the wedding. As a Benedictine oblate, it reminds me that for St. Benedict, everything that is written in his Rule takes place within the context of community; whether giving instruction about prayer, relationships, or work, the monk is reminded he or she is a part of a community. It is through community, not just as monks or oblates but within families and our community of friends, that we grow in understanding of self and God and learn to love one another more deeply.

“Benedict’s genius was in recognizing the power of journeying together. There is power and empowerment, healing and strength in living together and recognizing our mutual interdependence.”

Engaging Benedict: What the Rule Can Teach Us Today, Laura Swan

Judith Valente writes, “My friend Sister Thomasita Homan of Mount St. Scholastica once described a monastic community as ‘a place where people agree to link arms, support one another, and help each other grow’ (How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning and Community).” The guests of John and Jessica’s wedding are linking arms with them, will support them, and as community does, will challenge them and help them grow.

When creating their wedding ceremony, John and Jessica carefully chose who would be part of the ceremony and the words that would be spoken. When they talked about who they wanted to marry them, they knew they wanted someone who shared their own spirituality and values and would deliver a message filled with insight and wisdom. They asked my own “anam cara,” soul friend, Joyce, who also hired Jessica for her first job in high school, quickly becoming a spiritual mentor to Jess as well. This is a newer phenomenon, to choose your own officiant, but my heart is full that they chose so wisely. (See script throughout this post.)

The ceremony also included a family blessing shared by each mother. I was deeply touched to be able to contribute some words about what I hoped John and Jessica’s marriage might hold for them. I shared the following blessing:

Blessing for John and Jessica Holland Wedding

When Jessica was just a toddler, I created a bedtime prayer that I blessed her with each night. Some nights, in a hurry, it was shortened to “God bless Jessica’s mind, body and spirit. Amen.” But the lengthier version has remained my prayer for Jessica as she has grown up.

This special prayer I say now includes BOTH Jessica and John as they join their life together in marriage.

God bless Jessica, and John’s minds, so that they make good decisions and choices.

God bless Jessica and John’s bodies so that they grow strong and healthy and safe.

God bless Jessica and John’s spirit so that they know the love of God and others. Amen.

It is said that the only thing that prepares you for marriage, is marriage.  It will not always be easy, but more often it will be better than you could have imagined. Every day you will make choices about what kind of person you want to be and the kind of relationship you will continue to build with God and each other.

A marriage is made of moments. When you string them all together, you get a picture of a life built together. A marriage is not made, once and for all, when the I-dos are exchanged. A marriage is constantly being recreated; it is always in the process of becoming.

In your becoming, take time for solitude—pursuing your individual passions knowing you are always supported by the other. Listen with the ear of the heart, as St. Benedict writes, listening to each other’s words but also to what lies between the words, seeking to understand the silence too.

May you be patient with each other, keeping a sense of humor, apologizing, and forgetting quickly.

May you be a joyful giver and treat each hour as the rarest gift with gratitude for each other. May you build traditions and rituals that are uniquely yours as a couple.

May you have a marriage that embraces all seasons.

God Bless Jessica’s mind, body, and spirit.

God Bless John’s mind, body, and spirit.

God Bless the marriage of John and Jessica. Amen

Family was an important part of the wedding ceremony and weekend. Both dads and John’s brother shared toasts and the mothers shared a blessing.

A reading from Romans 12: 9-18, instruction for sharing love and hospitality both in marriage and in community, was followed by a message from Joyce.  Friends and family were asked to participate in a community vow, agreeing to love and support John and Jessica in their marriage, offering them love and friendship.

This community vow mirrors the importance of The Rule of St. Benedict, written 1500 years ago as a guide for those who desired a spiritual life of prayer and work, learning to love others as Christ. It was not a guide for individual pursuits, but for living in community. It is a given that the community is important, an integral part of growing in holiness and happiness. John and Jessica see clearly that they have the support of friends and family, that they are part of a community that they will also share their gifts and hospitality with. This was followed by a moment of silent prayer for their marriage.

“The words community and communicate share the same Latin root. They are related by root to another word, compassion, which means to “suffer with”, or more loosely, to “walk beside.”

Judith Valente, How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning and Community.

John and Jessica have created a community that will walk beside them, people they have known all their life as well as those who they have met along the way. As a couple, they will continue to gather new friends as well. My husband gave a nod during his toast to all those in John and Jessica’s community who have helped them become who they are:

When you raise your kid, you hope to instill your hopes, dreams, and values in them and that when they go out into the world, they make all the right choices and remember the way they were raised. Lots of people have told Jodi and I what a great job we did in raising our daughter. That is partially true, but I think we learn and form who we are from those around us. Jessica and John have had many positive role models in their lives. They have taken a little bit of each one of those people to become who they are today. So, when people tell me, you did a great job in raising your daughter, it has as much to do with all the relationships she had with others. I want to thank everyone for helping me raise my daughter. Everyone here can take credit for the beautiful person she is today. Many can take credit for John being a kind, loving and caring person. They are who they are today because of all the people in their life.

“The Benedictine spirituality of community is based on life with other persons in the spirit of Christ: to support them, to empower them, and to learn from them.”

Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today

John and Jessica vow to journey through life together—to support and empower each other and to continue to learn and grow in their relationship. They are community to each other, first and foremost. I am so proud of and happy for them!

As part of their wedding gift, I created a SoulCollage® card called “John and Jessica Becoming.” A wedding photo will be added to the card soon.

We are grateful that Jessica’s friend, Tarah, videotaped the wedding ceremony! You can watch the video HERE.

Other blog posts on marriage and family:

What Makes a Happy Mother’s Day?

The Vow of Stability: A Marriage Made of Moments

Jessica Becoming

Tender Compassion of Our God

December 2020 Lectio Divina and Oblate Reflections

Sources: Luke 1:67-79; The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 72 Study Guide for The Rule of St. Benedict, Maria-Thomas Beil, OSB, page 180-185

For our Lectio Divina practice, we read more deeply the well-known Benedictus that is prayed every morning in the Divine Office, Luke 1:67-79.

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Words and phrases that resonate with us, shared in our discussion:

Save us from our enemies….to show mercy….to set us free… without fear…. knowledge of salvation….forgiveness of our sins….the way of peace…promise….prepare his way…you, my child…tender compassion.

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The Benedictus proclaims what God is doing and will do for us—not what we do. Many of us have grown up with the image of an angry God, but that is not the God we are shown in Scripture. We are promised a God of tender compassion, not a bookkeeper of judgments. Mercy is God’s loving response to suffering. God is not watching from afar; God is suffering with us.

The dawn from on high breaks upon us—God is breaking in with the incarnation and gives us hope. Benedict was not harsh, but practical, just as God is tender. God enters our history to experience our suffering with us, but we must expose our wounds for the tender compassion of our God to work. To prepare our heart, we must invite God in. Advent was a time to prepare our hearts for God to enter—although this task is never fully completed. We must live in perpetual Advent, inviting God in and humbling ourselves without fear, to receive the tender compassion of our loving God.

Continue reading “Tender Compassion of Our God”

St. Cecilia, Patron of Music—November 22 Saint of the Day

“The aim and final reason of all music should be nothing else but the glory of God and the refreshment of the spirit.”

Johann Sebastian Bach

St. Cecilia—November 22, Saint of the Day

St. Cecilia is a Roman martyr and the patron of music and musicians. It is written that Cecilia dedicated herself to virginity, but instead was forced by her parents into marriage. As musicians played at her wedding, Cecilia “sang in her heart to the Lord”. Memorializing St. Cecilia is remembering that music is a pathway to connect to the Divine, a way to seek comfort, to praise and to pray.

“Singing is soulful. It is prayerful and it is powerful. I love to sing (in the privacy of my own car). I love to listen to others sing, from the liturgical chant of Benedictine monks to contemporary Christian artists. Whether it is the melody or insightful lyrics that I find a connection with, music can create a mood, help recognize or express a feeling, or bring me to a place of prayerful listening.

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SoulCollage Card–This Journey Is My Own (blog post link below.)

When monks sing, they believe they are singing with the angels, and we are just to join in. The beauty of singing familiar songs and hymns is allowing our mind and heart to beat as one. Songs that capture what we could have not so artfully written, become our prayer. To sing, or sing with another, is to elevate the soul, to connect with the Divine.” (from a previous blog post, Music as Prayer ♫ This Journey Is My Own)

St. Cecilia was memorialized in the church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, founded in the 3rd century after Cecilia was martyred. The church is believed to be on the site of the house where she lived and died. Since 1527, a community of Benedictine nuns has lived in the monastery next door. In 1599, Cecilia’s body was found in incorrupt with deep cuts in her neck just as she had died. A sculpture by Stefano Maderno of Cecilia’s body lies in front of the choir.

When I visited Rome during the World Oblate Congress, we made an unscheduled stop at St. Cecilia’s in the Trastevere region. It was a profound experience, one that I cannot quite capture in words. Instead, I share some photos of my visit.

Continue reading “St. Cecilia, Patron of Music—November 22 Saint of the Day”

Circle of Friends: Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold.

And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.

Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendships lately–both old and new, those friends who are near and far, and those who have passed away.

In 2015, our Circle lost a dear sister. Judy passed away only a year or so after being diagnosed with a rare, incurable, fast-growing cancer. For the last several weeks of her life, Judy was unable to leave her bed and wanted few visitors, but it was important for our Circle to continue sending our love and prayers. Even if we weren’t physically present, we wanted her to feel that we held her in our heart. Each of us committed to a day of the week that we would send Judy some kind of card, note or greeting. In this time of pandemic, just as we did with Judy, we can stay connected with our loved ones.

Judy, Laura, Ruth, Joyce, me and Katie–some of our Circle who came to my first SoulCollage® retreat at St. Benedict Center.

Judy was a lover of SoulCollage®—she came to my first retreat at St. Benedict Center and fell in love with the process. She started meeting weekly to cut, paste and create with our friend, Beth. The practice became a form of expression and prayer for her and she even shared it with her daughters and grandchildren on one of their last vacations together on Captiva Island. Making and sending a SoulCollage® card to honor Judy and our Circle was a form of creative prayer for me.

I was drawn to images that represented the strong, hard-working, loving women that had met together monthly for several years. I hoped the card would make Judy smile, bring her a little joy and remind her of the bond we all shared. It also gave me the chance to put images and words to how I feel about our Circle.

Continue reading “Circle of Friends: Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold.”

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