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Jodi Blazek Gehr SoulFully You

SoulCollage® Facilitator, Benedictine Oblate of Christ the King Priory, Retreat Leader at St. Benedict Center, Teacher, Mother, Wife, Friend, Lover of learning, reading, creativity and spirituality.

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.

After 34 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:

  • Joe sending little gifts to me for several days before our wedding that said: “7 days til a lifetime” (6, 5, 4 and so on). Each day a new gift arrived.
  • Working four jobs between us so I could finish college, sometimes with only enough time to exchange notes or take a break together at one of our shared part-time jobs at Montgomery Ward.
  • Buying our first home and meeting our neighbors, Cece and Bob. Cece, who became a widow just six months later, became part of our family and a grandma to our daughter.
  • Having our first baby and Joe announcing “You got your girl!”, when she was born…my secret hope.
  • Experiencing the loss of two babies and the grief of infertility while creating a family of three with more love than we could imagine.
  • Welcoming dogs (Ralph, Rosie, and Bailey) and cats (Peaches and Boots) into our little family…and missing their love and companionship when they passed on.
  • Being parents to Jessica, from diapers and bottles, soccer games and DECA competitions to college internships and sorority activities.

A marriage is made of moments. Our life now:

  • Being empty nest parents to Jessica, staying in touch with our daily Fam-bam texts. Everything from biking routes that Jessica and a friend took to pizza Joe and I made in a cast-iron skillet to a virtual shoulder to cry on during some rough patches. We are a family connected wherever we are. 
  • Visiting Jessica at her home in Washington DC and more recently in Madison, WI, letting her host us and be our tour guide. (Of course, we still pick up the check at all the restaurants she has been dying to visit.)
  • Enjoying what still feels like our new home, getting into jammies the minute we get home from work, making dinner, yelling at the news (rather than at each other) and thanking God that we have grown together, sharing the same world view in very troubled times.
  • Providing comfort, support and unconditional love for each other (and Jessica) during some very challenging and painful experiences this past year.
  • Becoming more adventurous as empty nest parents: enjoying fun times with friends, day trips to nearby wineries, and taking a special trip to the Bridges of Madison County just the two of us.

With the Schoenings, friends we met Jessica’s kindergarten year. Just like family!

This August 17, 2019, we get to share our anniversary date with Abby and Tony for their wedding day. Abby and Jessica started playing soccer together when they were five years old, and our families became lifelong friends. Jessica will be Abby’s maid of honor. We hope for Abby and Tony a marriage made of moments that last a lifetime.

Thirty-four years of marriage is a threading of memories, a string of moments that hold the seasons of life.  After 34 years, marriage is about acceptance. We rest into acceptance of who the other is, rather than attempting to create the other into who we would like them to be. We enjoy each other with a lightheartedness that wasn’t possible in the newlywed years. Time is funny: it goes too fast, but it also unfolds so slowly that we don’t always see the transformation of the innocent into the mature, the immature into the confident. After 34 years, I know that this man is someone I can count on no matter what the season. I am so grateful for our marriage and our beautiful grown-up girl!

Happy 34th Anniversary to us!


A Marriage Made of Moments is a blog post I wrote for our 30th anniversary in 2015. For our 31-derful anniversary, I shared a revised post with updated photos, new “moments” and fresh reflections. Check them out too.

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Ode to Mary: Lover and Giver of Life

Four years ago we lost Mary Gehr, lover and giver of life. I was blessed to have her as a mother-in-law. My husband, Joe, said in her eulogy, “We were taught the meaning of selflessness, caring, patience and compassion for humankind. We were taught to see people for who they were, not for who the world tells us they are.

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My mother’s arms were always open and welcoming to anyone, it didn’t matter who you were, where you came from or what you wanted, for my mom, it was about what she could do to help…Whenever you saw Mary, you would see a big smile on her face. It never mattered what kind of mood she was in; she was always happy to see you. If you didn’t want a hug, you were going to get one anyway.

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Sometimes I think she should have gone into politics. I think if she was the Secretary of State, a lot of countries would end their conflicts and hug each other instead. If you only met Mary for a few minutes, she would make an impression on you that would last a lifetime. Couldn’t our country use a few more Mary Gehrs right now?”

Mary Gehr, my mother-in-law, was a lover of life and laughing, parties and planning them.  She loved going to Las Vegas, playing video poker, Bridge, and Words with Friends. She loved Budweiser, murder mysteries, giving hugs, eating great food, cooking for others, Thanksgiving Day, and being with family.

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Mary Gehr was a strong woman, an amazing mother, the rock of her family, a giver of life, the epitome of hospitality,  a peacekeeper, devoted wife, and bad-ass grandma.  She was spirited, full of joy, selfless, generous beyond measure, supportive, spontaneous, positive and funny. She welcomed everyone as family, would talk to anyone, was so darn lucky in video poker and keno and never worried about what others thought of her. She had dimples and a smile that lit up every room she entered.

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Mary made friends wherever she went. Here, she’s getting to know some bikers in a restroom line at Branched Oak restaurant.

We never know how long we have, life can change or end in a minute, but Mary Gehr was just as shocked as her friends and family that life took a turn for her on July 24, 2015, the day before her 78th birthday and the day of our daughter, Jessica’s 21st birthday. The last words she said before having surgery to repair a perforated colon were, “I don’t want to die on Jessica’s birthday. I don’t want to die on my birthday.” She didn’t.  The few weeks she was kept alive on life support, she couldn’t talk, but she could nod her head and she could smile. When my husband asked Mary if she wanted to keep fighting, she nodded yes. She gave the fight of her life to stay with us. 

Mary had just started to live a new life of independence, finding her voice and making her own choices. It’s not that she didn’t have that with her husband, Marv, but she came into her own in a different sort of way after Marv passed. She was just as happy, even though she was sad. She was just as strong, even though she was lonely. She loved being around people, even though she could be alone. She got to know herself better and we got to know her in just a Mary-way, without Marv. She was a feisty lady and so proud of the name “bad-ass grandma” she earned from Jessica. 217477_10201067686839796_754692611_n

Jessica’s birthday party was Grandma’s idea. She loves a party–loves to host, loves to go, loves to have fun. But instead, she is lying in a hospital bed getting life support from a ventilator. After an eight-week stay alternating between the hospital and rehabilitation center, Mary’s colon perforated, poisoning her from the inside. Without emergency surgery, she would have died within hours. But surgery to remove most of her colon and repair damages left her weakened even more than before, fighting infections, kidney impairment, and many other critical issues.  Because Grandma Gehr loves to have fun, we went forward with the birthday party…and we had a blast. Our friends and family are so supportive, praying for Mary’s recovery but also celebrating with Jessica. *Written the weekend after Mary’s surgery and Jessica’s party.

Mary lived long enough to smile again, to hold a hand, to hear our good-byes. Mary died on August 10, 2015.IMG_8620

My husband, Joe, summed up his mom’s zest for life in her eulogy: “One of our good friends offered sympathy at Marv’s funeral, gave Mary a hug and said, “You will be with Marv again.” Mary’s response: “I hope not too soon!” Rather than feeling sorry for herself, she took what life gave her and began to live every day like it was her last. She had so much fun and joy these last couple of years. Of course, she missed my dad, we all have. I think she cried a tear every day for him and every conversation we had, we talked about him in some way.”

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Yes, indeed, the world could use a lot more Marys, but we were pretty darn happy to have had our Mary. She was a one-of-a-kind-lover-of-life and it is with great joy we remember her today and always.

 

The Meaning of Rituals: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 7

This is what rituals are for. We do spiritual ceremonies as human beings in order to create a safe resting place for our most complicated feelings of joy or trauma, so that we don’t have to haul those feelings around with us forever, weighing us down. We all need such places of ritual safekeeping. And I do believe that if your culture or tradition doesn’t have the specific ritual you are craving, then you are absolutely permitted to make up a ceremony of your own devising, fixing your own broken-down emotional systems with all the do-it-yourself resourcefulness of a generous plumber/poet.” ― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

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Thursday, June 20One of the highlights of the pilgrimage was a visit to Ettal Abbey, founded in 1330 by Emperor Ludwig the Bavarian, for the procession celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi, a ritual dating back to 13th century Italy. The procession of parishioners, visitors, musicians, and clergy started after Mass by leaving the chapel and threading its way through abbey grounds, flower gardens and nearby pastures of sheep and cows. There was something so sacred about the singing, chanting, the aroma of incense, the sound of the sheep bells clanging as they walked or bent to eat. Not understanding hardly any words, there was still a deeper understanding that there was something holy happening here. The meditative walking and liturgical pauses along the way, a pilgrimage of sorts, were hints that this ritual pointed to something much more.

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The Corpus Christi procession is a Catholic ritual, one of the hundreds that are celebrated during the liturgical calendar, but rituals can also be created by oneself or in small communities and groups to help commemorate or honor a special experience. Thomas Merton wrote that a ritual is “imbued with the beloved’s presence.”  James Finley, in Thomas Merton’s Path to the Palace of Nowhere: The Essential Guide to the Contemplative Teachings of Thomas Merton, notes that “we need a holy place or thing to awaken us to the holiness of everything.” Rituals convey a sense of the spiritual and holy, if not during the ritual, oftentimes later when one is reflecting and remembering. Rituals connect us to something more than ourselves, not just with our intellect, but through our senses, our heart, and soul. Rituals are packed with divine meaning. (Read Fr. Mauritius Wilde’s ritual of embracing the cross as an example.) Continue reading “The Meaning of Rituals: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 7”

Humor is the Hand of Hospitality: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 6

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Hospitality can look different from one situation to another. It can be opening one’s home to another or serving a meal, but it can also be cracking a joke to break the ice or ease some tension. Humor is the hand of hospitality. Today I get my chance to practice.

Wednesday, June 19—This day begins with a trip to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, located in the Franconia region of Bavaria, Germany. It is a well-known medieval old town, having survived the Thirty Years War and World War II (limited damage that was repaired). Rothenburg, a walled village with many towers, is part of the popular Romantic Road through southern Germany.

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In Rothenburg, there were many sites to see—churches, garden walks, spectacular views, quaint shops, many Christmas stores, a part Gothic/part Renaissance Town Hall, and beautiful fountains.

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Continue reading “Humor is the Hand of Hospitality: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 6”

Flood the World with Love: An Antidote to Darkness

Flood the world with love. These words came to me this morning after I woke up anxious and fearful. I had a disturbing dream, but it was more about what is happening in this country— a foreboding sense of hopelessness for the future, so much political tension, blatant racism and xenophobia, and strained relationships with, even aggressiveness from, those who don’t see what is so very wrong with the words and actions coming from the White House.

Flood the world with love. I remembered that several months ago I had written a blog post titled, Flood The World With Love, but I didn’t remember exactly what I had written, or why. As I read it again, I realized that my own words had come at just the moment I needed them.

Flood the world with love. Inspired by the lyrics of a Carrie Newcomer song, what I wrote gave me enough light to start my day with the hope that if I just flood the world with love, I am doing something.

Flood the world with love. I had written about practicing lectio divina with both song (“I Heard an Owl” by Carrie Newcomer, much-loved folk singer, and spiritual teacher) and scripture.

I heard an owl call last night
Homeless and confused
I stood naked and bewildered
By the evil people do

Up upon a hill there is a terrible sign
That tells the story of what darkness waits
When we leave the light behind.

Don’t tell me hate is ever right or God’s will
Those are the wheels we put in motion ourselves
The whole world weeps and is weeping still
Though shaken I still believe
The best of what we all can be
The only peace this world will know
Can only come from love.

I am a voice calling out
Across the great divide
I am only one person
That feels they have to try
The questions fall like trees or dust
Rise like prayers above
But the only word is “Courage”
And the only answer “Love”

Light every candle that you can
For we need some light to see
In the face of deepest loss,
Treat each other tenderly
The arms of God will gather in
Every sparrow that falls
And makes no separation
Just fiercely loves us all.

(Carrie Newcomer, The Gathering of Spirits, 2001)

My heart is heavy with the darkness of the world, of “the evil people do” in the name of our own opinion, religion, political party, racial or economic privilege. Our collective anxiety, fear, anger, and hostility have led to so much division and violence—in our spirits and in relationships. We must

Flood the world with love.

The words are a meditation of love, peace and courage—and a good reminder of how to be a living light in the world. As the antidote to confusion, fear, hatred, and darkness, we must

Flood the world with love.

With so much darkness, “the best of what we all can be” is to

Flood the world with love.

 I want to “fiercely love,” to build others up, to “treat each other tenderly,” to ease another’s suffering, to remind others of their divine spark, to err on the side of compassion, to

Flood the world with love.

I want to be a light in this world. We are creators, too—with our thoughts, actions, and energy. We can either live in love or live in fear. Mother Teresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten we belong to each other.”

Flood the world with love.

St. Benedict instructs, “Let peace be your quest and aim.” (RB, Prologue 18) We cannot accept hate as the new normal. It can feel overwhelming at times—“I am only one person,” but we must, at least, try. We must “light every candle” that we can. We must

Flood the world with love.

The only word is “Courage”/ And the only answer “Love.” I pray for the courage to bring more light and less darkness in the world. And as I wait for the ultimate display of love that “The arms of God will gather in / Every sparrow that falls / And makes no separation / Just fiercely loves us all”, I choose, in all my imperfection, to 

Flood the world with love.

Read the original post in its entirety HERE.
And if you haven’t listened to I Heard an Owl, you must.

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Missionary Benedictines of Tutzing, chapel artwork, “The Living Water” 

Pilgrims Are Not Just Tourists: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 5

“A tourist has new experiences, but remains the same person. A pilgrim experiences new places and is transformed by them.” —Christine Valters Paintner, The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within

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Photo: Bamberg Cathedral

Being a tourist is a lot different than being a pilgrim. We even prayed about it in our opening Mass. Being a pilgrim has some responsibility that goes with it—to extend hospitality and to practice humility and patience. We have been duly warned.

This experience is not just about sight-seeing. We don’t experience events and then move on. There is a river flowing beneath our lived experience, where we are feeling, processing, and reflecting. What we feel about or interpret an experience today may change tomorrow. This pilgrimage—the visiting of churches, monasteries, and historical sights—is just one level, but the pilgrimage within is the real experience.

The momentum of the inner pilgrimage, the current of the river beneath, moves in its own time. The outer pilgrimage is on a schedule. The inner pilgrimage is our spiritual experience; we process what has happened with people and places, looking through the lens of the Divine. The lens through which we see is the decisive factor in how the outer pilgrimage impacts our life. Evidence: I thought I would whip out a four-part blog series about the pilgrimage, but it’s taken longer than I expected. I’m on kairos time that cannot be rushed.

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Bamberg Cathedral

But here we go…the first FULL day! (and it is full!)

Tuesday, June 18We celebrate Mass in the morning at Kloster Banz, a former Benedictine monastery founded in 1070, now known as Banz Castle. In the second half of the 18th century, Banz Abbey was known throughout the Holy Roman Empire as a place of Catholic enlightenment and for the scholarship of its monks. This did not save it from secularization and dissolution in 1803. Today it serves as a parish church. The Abbey is not what it once was, but it continues in another way.

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Continue reading “Pilgrims Are Not Just Tourists: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 5”

A Busload of Hospitality: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 4

“Pilgrimage calls us to yield our own agendas and follow where we are being led.” —Christine Valters Painter, The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within

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Many times in the months leading up to the pilgrimage, I perused the informational brochure outlining where we would visit each day and where we would stay, anticipating the trip ahead. The pace and routine of the previous pilgrimage gave me a good idea of what to expect—but what is actually experienced lies in the gaps of the agenda, in the conversations and relationships with others, and in the details of the day that cannot be planned or controlled. This is where the grace of God enters—sometimes it is in the form of discomfort and challenges and other times in opportunities that new insights and “aha moments” of new understanding bring.

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I am at a threshold, a doorway, entering into a time and space of letting go as I pray in my mantra—“Trust God, peace like a river flows.” I know that surrender can eventually bring peace, wonder, surprise, openness, vulnerability, and/or joy, but I also know that not surrendering can bring tension, worry, expectation, guilt, anger, resentment, and/or disappointment. I want to surrender to whatever the moment brings. And if and when those less desirable, more challenging moments come, I want to surrender self-judgment too. Ultimately, surrender is transformational—not in the moment, but over time. The experiences and the accompanying feelings will percolate over days, weeks, months, and begin to define a new part of my self.

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“What’s your biggest takeaway?” many of my friends have asked.

My first thought is OMG, it was SO HOT!! How do people live without air conditioning?

The European heatwave made a big impression and impact, but it was only the last several days of our trip. There were many other takeaways that I will share as I travel through the itinerary in my reflections. Join me on the journey through Germany, Austria and Switzerland, the outer pilgrimage, and the inner pilgrimage as I share my biggest takeaways—

Hospitality—History—Humor—Humility—Heat —Home
(the H thing was a total coincidence, but I took it as a good sign to keep writing.) Continue reading “A Busload of Hospitality: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 4”

Welcoming the Stranger: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 3

“Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ”—Rule of St. Benedict 53:1

Officially the Benedictine pilgrimage part of my trip does not start until I connect with thirty-six other pilgrims, but as I reflect on the readings/homily from Sunday, July 21, 2019 (the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C), it occurs to me that the week I spent with my cousins was just as much part of the pilgrimage. It was the embodiment of being Benedictine and of the hospitality demonstrated in these readings.

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For having only met once, Jefferey and Sabine were practically welcoming a stranger in their home and yet, they received me with enthusiasm, providing food, water, bath, and bed for several days. So, too, did Jennifer and Santhosh. They planned events and excursions; they took care of transportation and many other practical details. Jennifer rearranged a room, asked if I needed shampoo, soap, lotion, a light, a different blanket, more food, a glass of water…so much hospitality that Santhosh had to drag her out of the room, laughing, “Let her sleep, she is tired.” But, mostly we were in each other’s company—listening, talking, asking questions. We were present to each other.

In Genesis 18:1-10a, Abraham welcomes three strangers, running enthusiastically to greet them; he offers the choicest food, water, rest, and a foot bath (okay, no one gave me a foot bath, but I did have wonderful hot showers!) He provides the strangers, often illustrated as the three angels of the Holy Trinity icon, the practical concerns of being hospitable, but he also “wait(ed) on them under the tree while they ate.” He meets their needs, but also gives them his attention; he is present to them.

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In Luke 10:38-42, Martha welcomes Jesus into her home, working hard on the practical elements of serving a guest, perhaps preparing the food, cleaning a room for the visitor, and setting the table. Mary, on the other hand, simply sits with Jesus and listens. She gives him her attention; she is present to him. Surely, the practical things are important (otherwise no one would ever eat), but Jesus tells them that “Mary has chosen what is better.” Both the practical actions and being present, or contemplative, are important elements of hospitality and being Benedictine. Continue reading “Welcoming the Stranger: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 3”

Cousin Week: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 2

Sunset over the Atlantic, sunrise over Europe and eight hours later, cousin week of the pilgrimage begins. Jefferey greets me with a huge smile at the Munich airport and we chat enthusiastically about our travel plans as we drive to Heidhausen, where he and Sabine live. We will spend a few days in Munich; we will visit his mother; I will travel to Stuttgart for a few days to visit Jennifer and her husband, Santhosh; and, then spend one final day in Munich before joining the group pilgrimage. Jefferey has planned everything down to the detail—even pre-booking my train trips to connect with others.

After a short rest, we have a wonderful brunch. The food is as amazing as I remember it. Jefferey is a great chef, using only fresh, organic and, always, a variety of ingredients. We can’t believe it has been 5 years since my last visit and we first met.

 

 

Continue reading “Cousin Week: A Benedictine Pilgrimage, Part 2”

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