Freestanding and In Charge — Or Not

We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” – Ernest Hemingway

I often think of myself as freestanding and in charge – only to repeatedly learn I’m not. I say that even as I know my best decisions, like the ones to have my beautiful children as a single person, came from a calling that was far beyond me. I read an amazing piece on that subject this week from Mark Nepo that I am posting here in case anyone else needs to hear the same thing.

Teachers Are Everywhere

Teachers arise from somewhere within me that is beyond me, the way the dark soil that is not the root holds the root and feeds the flower.

So often we think of ourselves as freestanding and in charge, because we have the simple blessing of being able to go where we want. But we are as rooted as shrubs and trees and flowers, in an unseeable soil that is everywhere. It’s just that our roots move.

Certainly, we make our own decisions, dozens every day, but we are nourished in those decisions by the very ground we walk, by the quiet teachers we encounter everywhere. Yes, in our pride and confusion, in our self-centeredness and fear, we often miss the teachers and feel burdened and alone.

In trying to hear those quiet teachers, I am reminded of the great poet Stanley Kunitz, who as a young man struggling darkly with how to proceed with his life, heard geese cross a night sky and somehow he knew what he had to do. Or how a man I know was slowly extinguishing himself, sorely depressed, when, finally exhausted of his endless considerations, he heard small birds in snow in unexpected song. He realized he was a musician who needed to find and learn the instrument he was supposed to play.

From the logic of being freestanding and in charge, experiences of this sort seem crazy-making and untrustworthy. But the soil of life in which we grow speaks a different language than we are taught in school. In actuality, truth and love and the spirit of eternity are rarely foreseeable, and clarity of being seldom comes through words.

In my brief time on Earth, I have felt the light of ageless spirit fill me unexpectedly when I thought I would die, and as water pumps its way up a slim root making that plant leaf out toward the light, I have found myself, against all fear and will, flushed with possibility in the direction of dreams I had hardly imagined.

Whether through birds in snow, or geese honking in the dark, the brilliant wet leaf that hits your face the moment you are questioning your worth, the quiet teachers are everywhere. When we think we are in charge, their lessons dissolve as accidents or coincidence. But when brave enough to listen, the glass that breaks across the room is offering us direction that can only be heard in the roots of how we feel and think.

The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo


You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” – Steve Jobs

You know that feeling when you start to wobble? It could be riding a bike or stand up paddleboarding or going down the stairs too fast with your hands full but there’s a moment when it all starts vibrating and you think, “Oh no, I’m going to fall!” but you haven’t fallen yet. That’s how my family feels right now.

It started with my two-year-old’s root canal – his fever spiked, the dentist worked on the tooth and then put him on antibiotics. Just as that pain was starting to heal, my 6-year-old daughter came down with a head cold. Right as she started to kick that, my son’s fever spiked again so it was back to the dentist who finished working on the tooth and continued the antibiotics. Then his body signaled it was done with antibiotics by breaking out in a rash all over his body. Right as that began to clear, I caught my daughter’s head cold.

It was hard to put my finger on why all this feels difficult. It’s more than the aches and pains, although they aren’t very fun and different than the fear that I won’t be able to get my work done.

But I put a name to what I was grappling with when I listened again to an Unlocking Us podcast where Brené Brown talked with Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and prolific author. CERTITUDE

“People who’ve had any genuine spiritual experience, always know that they don’t know. They are utterly humbled before mystery, they are in awe before the abyss of it all, in wonder at eternity and depth, and a love which is incomprehensible to the mind.”

Our ancestors were more easily able to hold on to mystery in general and God in particular. Whereas we worship workability, predictability and answers. We like answers! It’s not good to think that way. It takes away a natural humility.

We created an artificial world in which we create circumstances in which WE KNOW.

You have to get away from Western over-developed countries to meet a different kind of human being who isn’t that way. Who don’t think they have a right to certitude.

Father Richard Rohr

Uncertainty is a great word to describe what I’ve been feeling as my family wobbles. I lose my ability to predict what the next day is going to look like, more or less, and I feel a little bereft without that. I start casting about trying to think of when this is end so I can get back to knowing.

And then I think of one of my favorite quotes from Mark Nepo, “When we stop struggling we float.”  I imagine just leaning back into this time of uncertainty, having faith that a dots will connect as Steve Jobs says in the quote for this post.

When life roughs me up I often find that it gives me a little bit of texture to hang out to. Almost as if when things are going too smoothly, time glides too easily through my fingers and I “routine” my life away. Difficulty keeps us close for a moment and life becomes more of an adventure.

There was a COVID case in my son’s classroom last week. Will his COVID test come back negative this morning so that he can go to school and I can go to my 11:30 meeting? It’s a mystery – and I’m so grateful I woke up this morning so that I will be able to solve it and go on to the next.

(featured photo from Pexels)

It’s Love Calling

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” – Lao Tzu

To some degree I always write about what I don’t understand in hopes that the words on the page will put some order to the giant gaping hole of the mysteries that I can’t comprehend.

But today I’m writing about a bigger mystery than usual. The best I can hope for with these words is just to describe the size and shape of something that I can’t fully grasp.

The other day my phone rang. I’m notorious for not answering my phone especially when, as was the case here, it’s just a number and not attached to anyone in my contact list. So I didn’t answer, there was no voice mail. It rang again, there was no voice mail. It rang again an hour later from the same number. I knew in my bones after the second call who it was so the third time I picked it up.

It was my friend Bill and he just said, “Wynne” in this deep voice that sounds like it could be the voice of God. And I replied, “I knew it was you calling.”

This friend only calls me about once every five years. When he calls, it’s always from a new number so it never comes up as a name. And yet, somehow I always know it’s him.

In the five years since he last called, I had another baby, my son. And he’s moved twice to different countries. Now he lives halfway around the world in Eastern Europe.  

I ask him about his parents who I’ve never met. He tells me through tears that he lost both of them 7 months apart a couple years back. He asks me about work and I tell him I’m doing the same thing — it doesn’t feed my soul but it feeds my kids. So I tell him that I’m writing.

In worldly terms, we don’t know each other that well.  We’ve maybe spent a dozen days together over 25 years. But we have this deep connection that was instantly apparent when we met.

It’s something I can only describe in metaphors. The connection is like plugging into a bolt of lightening when you only need a 200 amp current. The results are apt to blow a circuit and also are a little dangerous. It’s a mistake we made when we were younger and tried dating only to find it chaotic and unworkable. He’s a road sign, not a destination.

When he calls it’s always at a point when I’ve gotten so busy playing the roles I have in life that I’ve forgotten that there is a core, central “me” that is lovable.

The calls remind me to come alive in a way that is more than what I do. They speak to me of great love even though its quite clear that we will never be in each other’s lives on a daily basis. It’s more that we share the same core so when he calls it sparks some primal memory in me to remember to take care of that precious center of my life. The sacred space in me that touches the sacred space in others.

The connection we share is inexplicable in practical terms. There should be no way that we can speak so deeply to each other and be a reminder of anything. The only thing that rings true is that it’s a spiritual connection that affirms that God is Love and Love is God.

In the end, I said to him. “Thank you for calling until I picked up.” And he replied, “I will always call you until you pick up.”

I’ll close with the final text he sent me after the call. I had written to him, “I suspect possible in our comprehension is a small sample of what is truly possible in the Universe. And you are evidence of that gift.”

And he replied, “That I am the evidence that is closely related to the everything that you must give daily, is the best of compliments. You, Wynne, creator, inventor, leader and human are truly one of the most beautiful humans I know! Thank you for finding me.”

I bet that we won’t communicate again for another 5 years. And that will be enough. Because maybe what we remind each other of isn’t anything about the specifics in life, it’s the big picture Life where love reigns and we are all known in our core.

Touch of the Divine

Above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” – Roald Dahl

My kids and I went to my friend’s new condo for a dinner party last night. I got the kids settled with the paper that I brought for them and then realized I’d dropped the markers in the car. My friend’s place is a 4th floor walk up so I left the kids with her, went down to the car and realized when I got there that the kids had left the inner dome light in the back of the car switched on. I thought “Thank God I had to come down for the markers. Otherwise, I could have returned to the car on a dark night in a hurry to get the kids to bed and found a dead battery.” That touch of the Divine made the four flights of steps going back up lighter.

Then my 6-year-old daughter needed a brown and yellow marker because the set I brought didn’t have those. I asked our host who said that all of her art supplies were still in boxes but we could open the box nearest to us that said “Art supplies” on it and check. We cut open the box. Right there on top in a neatly bundled and organized cup was her beautiful set of markers. “Wow, thank you Universe!” she exclaimed. I got a shiver.

I cyclically float between being at times easily able to see what God is doing in my life and in the other times, thinking I’m in charge. It’s a flow that I go back and forth on during any given day, week or month. Often seeing the Divine hand hinges on what I’m talking about and with whom I’m talking.

Jesus said, “For where two or three gather in my name, I am there with them.” (Matthew 18:20) Which I broadly observe in my life as those around us can help us uncover the magic in our existence. I’ve been doing some work with the church that my dad used to lead. The staff there often says about fortuitous events, “It was a God thing.”

I was going to write something else for my blog post this morning but for that touch of the Divine last night. Not only is it beautiful to see the hand of God, even in little things like markers, but it is fun. On this dark morning when I’m fresh from sleep and quiet meditation, I’m inspired to pass the spark of mystery and magic along.