Monthly Archives: February 2015

I’m right and you’re loved.

What do you love? Who do you love? And when you love, what does that mean?

“Love is the power to act one another into well-being and God is love.” –June Goudley

That God is love. That is my favorite definition. Infinite and unconditional love. Whether you want it or not. Whether you believe it or not. Just love.

“The people who love us prod us – enable us – to grow. And God loves us. Maybe that is why I have been moved from one nest to another, all the way through life: God loves me and wants me to grow. I am trying, before I die, to learn to trust this continual going into the unknown. I better have a long, long life.” –Joan Chittister

Yes. Because if in our finite capacity for, what we want for those we love is to enable growth, the growth and being that can be hoped for for us in infinite love, it must be completely spectacular, don’t you think? And to be loved like that just because you are. Again, whether or not you want it, whether or not you believe it.

As a consequence, no matter what, no matter who you are, where you are, you are loved.

That’s kinda nice, right?!

Believing it, though, can be kinda tough.

Maybe let’s just assume that I’m always right. And if that doesn’t work for you, I think we can all agree that Joan is. Yes?


A light shines in Stankowski-ville.

It’s Friday, it’s Lent, and we live in Wisconsin. So, naturally, we headed out this evening for a delicious church basement fish fry in Halder.

Halder might as well be Stankowski-ville and I just love it.

Baked fish, crinkle cut fries, homemade desserts, and enough left over for lunch tomorrow… what’s not to love?

The best part, though, was that on the way there, at nearly 6 pm, Seth pointed out that it was still light out. Still! At 6 pm!

And just like that:

“The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.” –Matthew 4:16

Too literal? Perhaps, but man, does daylight ever make a difference this time of year.

It’s still cold (like real cold) and there’s lots of snow left on the ground, but to see the sun when I get up in the morning and when I leave work in the evening? Absolutely glorious!

Post-work walk in the sunshine.
Post-work walk in the sunshine.

“Maybe one of the great unknown–unrecognized–truths of life is that light always dawns, eventually; that there is no such thing as a perpetual darkness of the soul. I know that in my own case the darkness only existed because I refused the light. I simply did not want the light. I had been in the cocoon of darkness for so long I thought that it was light.

“Maybe life is simply a going from light to light, from darkness to darkness till the last Great Darkness signals the coming of the First Great Light. That would explain why we are in a constant state of ‘disillusionment.’ I have come to understand that it is not protesting what we do not like that counts. It is choosing what we do which, ultimately, changes things.” –Joan Chittister

Light and dark make such powerful metaphors, don’t they? Maybe it’s because light and dark can be so powerful, even literally.

The last two lines though.

I have come to understand that it is not protesting what we do not like that counts. It is choosing what we do which, ultimately, changes things.


Promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate.

Shed light in a dark place and the powerful hold it has vanishes.

If we want to bloom, we must stretch toward the sun.


Stretching toward the sun, sharing the light I have when I have it, and promoting the things that I love– those are choices. Positive choices. Choices that lead to positive change. I will continue to look forward to the light. Even in the darkest days of winter.

And just to prove it, I’ll buy a really cute pair of wedge sandals on Zulily in the middle of January.

Yessss, yessss. That’s why I bought those shoes.

So cute, right?! Come on sun!
So cute, right?! Come on sun!

Butterfly on the wind, lioness in high grass.

So, I might not be deep enough for today’s dealy-o.

“No one knows what lies ahead, when we say yes to God.” –Jan L. Richardson

Thing is, when I read that, I thought I got it. Maybe I do. You can tell me what you think. Maybe Joan just threw me for a loop.

“I can only trust that what lies ahead will be fuller, freer, than the present. I hope for a life that is my own, that has no false chains to bind me, that allows me to move like a butterfly on the wind and to stand, when necessary, like a lioness in high grass. I want a life that is directed by the call within myself– not by an institution, not even by what looks like the care and concern of others.” –Joan Chittister

So. First impression: when you follow your gut, heart, and mind… when you say yes to the things that were meant for you, things that feel right, speak to you, then you are really living. Then you can really end up someplace amazing– the place where you were meant to be.

But then what Joan said. I don’t know. Do I get it?

Does it matter?

The message I get– that pursuing your dream, ensuring that you are following your heart, listening to God’s whispers into your soul, it’s certainly not a bad one, by any stretch of the imagination.

Joan’s just deeper than me. And that’s ok.

Want to know something super weird?

I believe that what really lights me up, paradoxically, is interacting with people.

I don’t get it. I don’t actually like interacting with people. In theory for sure and generally in practice as well. But at work, I’m noticing a theme– I’m kind of good at it.

I talked a tribal elder through saving and attaching a document to an email over the phone yesterday. It took me 45 minutes. He called again this afternoon and we chatted about his drive to Antigo this morning (90 miles south you know– it was warm down there!) and then I talked him through a doodle poll. Huge progress! He did it correctly. I somehow had infinite patience and actually enjoyed talking him through it. I’m excited for our next conference call on Tuesday, that guy is just great!

Then, right before I left for the day, my caller ID flashed Price County Health Department and rather than flinch before answering like I usually do, I picked up the receiver with gusto (I swear, it was gusto) and happily talked a woman through a survey I recently designed in preparation for a grant. She was fascinating.

Similarly, despite the crazy nerves before hand, I’ve never loved my job as much as when I ran focus groups for foster families and for BBS families. The foster care ones were in person, I actually asked a Mennonite woman if I could hold her little boy and chatted with she and her husband while I did. The BBS focus groups were over the phone and I still remember half the participants’ names and talk about them with the other investigators as though they are my friends… because I loved them. I loved working with them, talking to them, getting their perspective so very much. Loved them so much that I actually wrote this statement in an email to a program officer the other day:

Given local availability of expertise in certain rare diseases and the technological capacity to advance research via enrollment of geographically dispersed participants and provision of intervention via telemedicine, it seems unconscionable that licensure issues between states should impede the conduct of translational research for diseases that have traditionally been very difficult to study and related improvements in care.

I care so much about this stuff, I have become downright evangelical about it. (Also, I’m super proud of the email I crafted. Fingers crossed it makes a difference somehow, somewhere, someday!)

But I’m not supposed to. I’m not supposed to like it, to care so much about it that I actually speak up, because I am an introvert and introverts don’t like interacting and normally I’m text book about that sort of thing.

Maybe saying yes to God… to my soul… to the thing that lights me up… somehow turned me into an ambivert. I guess we really can’t know what lies ahead, what will make us stand up like a lioness in high grass… or maybe just a writer neck deep in telemedicine licensure mumbo jumbo.

A woman I work with said something like that to me the other day– she’s the director of our Center for Community Outreach and started out as a community social worker, dealing with issues surrounding drugs of abuse and other life-threatening concerns. I don’t remember her words exactly, but it was something along the lines of, “Our careers sort of build themselves over time if we let them, don’t they?” And she was right. Assuming our career is our passion. Or whatever our passion may be. If we let go, let God, let it take it’s course, we’ll be amazed where we end up.

Interestingly, as I reach the end of this post, I realize that the couple sentences above basically amount to a review of a great book I read recently entitled Women Healers of the World by Holly Bellebuono— every one of the woman profiled in that book, ranging from a traditional midwife practicing in rural Mexico to a princess in Iran, followed her passion, heart, soul, spirit, God, and found her way to something fulfilling in the biggest way.

I see it in my mom; teaching lights her up. The mitochondria is a siren to my friend Michele; she cannot resist it’s tiny little “powerhouse of the cell” call and it’s impossible to miss her response to that little organelle. I saw it in a friend of some friends named BeBe who described the most circuitously interesting route to WordPress so complex that I couldn’t repeat it if I tried. I heard it when my friend Jess told me how the continent of Europe basically begged her to come wow them with her regulatory knowledge.  I witness it all the time in my friend Marie as she works to change the face of what it means to be pro-life. These are all people answering God’s call for their lives. And you can tell, because they glow with it.

They are butterflies on the wind. It’s quite the sight.


So maybe I do get it after all. Just took some rolling it around in my mind. Isn’t it always like that? It’s too hard, it’s challenging, it’s thought-provoking, here are my thoughts, this is what I think, how I feel, what I believe.


“One of the marvelous facts of life is that every ending carries within itself the potential for a new beginning.” –Mary Borhek

Or, as Semisonic says… every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. That’s what started rolling in my head right away.


“I have had to learn this truth the hard way – and may not really have learned it at all. Whatever the public perception, I find it very difficult to give up the past. My pattern is to resist it kicking and screaming. But then, once the step is taken, never to look back. I simply am where I am – rooted until I go through the next forcible replanting  and then I root again. So far every planting has been a better one. When will I ever learn that?” –Joan Chittister

Forcible replanting.




It’s such a beautiful way to describe an ending. You never get uprooted without being replanted. You will blossom again.

Crazy abdominal pain? You will bloom again.

Heartbreak? You will bloom again.

Replanted again in greener pastures.

Every new beginning.

I have friends and family that need to hear this right now. I need to hear this always.

So much easier to remember from the other side of the new beginning. So very difficult to see from a fresh uprooting. I wish there were a faster way to the bloom, but the pain makes it so beautiful when it does happen. Promise.


Promise. Promise. Promise.

A Prayer for My Little Sister

Today… for the past week… I have felt terrible for my poor sister. She is so so so sick. Just miserable. And today she appears to have contracted a stomach bug on top of the back/abdominal pain she’s been experiencing since giving birth 8 months ago plus the sinus infection she was diagnosed with last week. She called me, sobbing, and it broke my heart because there was not a thing I could do. I sent her to the ER via my brother-in-law (thank goodness for him– he’s amazing), and I listened while she cried, but that was about it. My poor sweet sister. I wish so much that there were something I could do!

“It is through prayer… that one will be given the most powerful light to see God and self.” –Angela of Foligno

Is prayer, for my sweet sister, perhaps something I can do?

“‘To see God’ is to care very little about anything lesser. But in prayer I see my own littleness most clearly. I know how cowardly I really am. My voice is but one drop of water in an ocean of oppression. It will not change the ocean. But it may put it in need of explaining the injustice it can no longer hide, perhaps. I cannot not speak what my heart knows to be true.” –Joan Chittister

Here’s what I know to be true: my sister is hurting and she needs me. I cannot do anything for her physically, but I can send her my love. I can throw out a prayer or two. I can ask God, the Creator, maker of heaven and earth, all the Angels and Saints, to wrap my sister in love, love, love. To give her comfort and peace. To let her rest and to take away her worry.

We are so small in the grand scheme of things, like Joan says… in the world, the universe, all of it. And this exceptionally rough time for my sweet sister will pass. But it most certainly does not feel small to her right now. Her whole world right now is pain and discomfort and worry and uncertainty. So my prayer this evening is for her, to know that I love her, that we all love her, that God loves her, that she is going to feel better in the blink of an eye and this will all be a vague memory of struggle, something that Abby and Stu and their sweet little family made it through, allowing them to look back on their strength.


cheesy blasters and shark farts

“Mindfulness teaches us to be fully aware of each experience, letting nothing remain unnoticed, taking nothing for granted.” –Holly Whitcomb

Is that all?! Then why can I NOT?!

I just cannot seem to do it.

Not regularly anyway.

Oh but I wish!

“Mindfulness is the arch monastic virtue. Maybe that’s why monastics choose small cells, unfrequented places, simple surroundings. After all, it can take a lifetime to really see flowers, feel wood, learn the sky, walk a path and hear what all these things are saying to us about life, about our own growth, about the spirit in the clay of us. But once mindfulness comes, life changes entirely.” –Joan Chittister

Ahhh… but Joan says it can take a whole lifetime! So I suppose I’m not really behind.

I’m so convinced of this mindfulness business. At least I think I am. I’ve been reading books and attending seminars, learning about the value of mindfulness and meditation and every so often, I even spend a few minutes doing “not doing” … in a mindful way. Because it’s more than just anecdotal– there is legitimate evidence that mindfulness practices really can change you.

I want to go to there.


Turns out, you don’t have to live a monastic life to be mindful. Supposedly, it only even takes a few minutes a day. I know I waste at least a few minutes a day that could be put to this much better purpose.

Especially now that 30 Rock is over……….



PS: Not lent related, but lent is long and I just finished another book… and it’s sticking with me so I should tell you about it. I just finished listening to All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I have to admit, it had a slow start and probably wasn’t the best choice for an audiobook to run to, but man. I don’t really want to say anything about the story except that it’s about a blind French girl and an orphaned German boy during World War II and I have to say, it’s got to be the saddest war story I have ever read. It just… stuck. In my gut, in my heart. It broke my heart. Wowie zowie. Highly recommend, just maybe the print version.

It’s Rachel, no extra a, Coach McCarthy.

 “Spirituality is expressed in everything we do.” –Anne E. Carr

Another day of lent, another quotation. And this time, by a woman named Anne. Anne with an e. Important to take note of that e. My graduate school advisor spelled her name that way, with an E, and a lot of people spelled it wrong. First time, fine. But over and over and over again following several back-and-forth correspondences? She always found it to be offensive– showed a lack of caring, lack of respect, lack of attention to a detail that was important to her. I’ve waffled back and forth about that idea for some time. But I get it. I really do. I have enough years of Rachael with the extra a instead of the correct Rachel to understand why it can be frustrating.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy spelled my name Rachael on a wedding gift. Seth suggested I change my name accordingly. Disagree. But I digress.

Seth and Rachael... so close.
Seth and Rachael… so close.

Spirituality is expressed in everything we do. When we fail to take note of something that’s meaningful or important to someone else, it can be hurtful. Mistakes happen, of course, but often it’s a choice not to spend the time, to take the note.

Believe it or not, that doesn’t seem to be Joan’s point today (she’s just so much deeper than me!):

“I believe that our lives are our spirituality but I am not sure that behavior is its best test, its certain indicator. I do a great many things that ‘look’ good: I suppress anger, I give partial responses to serious questions, I hold myself to my own breast and live life within life within life that no one else knows about. But at the same time, I long desperately to bring all of them into focus, into line, into the One, where the heart is soft toward everything and everyone in this world. So which approach is real spirituality?” –Joan Chittister

Oh my. Another question… not really an answer. Does our behavior really reflect our spirituality? What’s in our heart of hearts?

Because of Anne (with an E), I’ve always tried to pay careful attention to how people spell their names and to get it right. I want to make note, to display to that person that I care… but then again, am I actually making note because it is part of my heart being soft toward everything and everyone in the world? Or am I concerned about it only because I feel like it makes me look good? Like I have paid attention?

Huh. I honestly don’t know.

The way I treat people, whether I note the e at the end of their name, maybe it matters. But does it really matter if I’m noting it only to look good? Not because I really mean it?

I guess the question is, then, how important is intention? Even Joan doesn’t seem to have that all figured out. Must be something worth thinking about.

Turns out, after mulling it over alllllll the live long day, through several loads of laundry and a walk in the snow with my Curls, a trip to the Y and the grocery store in yoga pants followed by a dinner of spaghetti and a nice long shower, a viewing of Pitch Perfect (I finally got Seth to watch it!) and a big bowl of popcorn, I have decided that part of my own personally spirituality, the thing I feel in my heart of hearts, is that any chance I have to make someone else feel good… or at the very least not feel bad… I should take it. I want to take it. Because I believe in raising others up, not bringing them down.

Well, I believe that most of the time. Not all of the time. You know those times when it’s practically impossible. Mean girls, Facebook, you catch my drift. Doesn’t seem to matter how many years go by. I’m trying to be better. I swear I try!

Regardless, my decision is that remembering the e on Anne or the single l in Michele or the correct way to spell Amy/Aimie/Aimee matters. No one is celebrating their name being spelled correctly (except, I imagine, for all the poor Siobhans out there), but  when I have an opportunity to make a note, spell it right, and not contribute to someone feeling disrespected or ignored or whatevs, I better take it.

I think that behavior matters. Maybe because of my intention? I don’t know. What do you think? How does your behavior reflect your soul?


PS: Seth and I are Packer owners now. We have a share of the team. So Coach McCarthy better get it right next time! Fun fact– he took this picture for us when we were at Lambeau Field last Tuesday.

Family at Lambeau

I kid of course. We’d have kicked my mom out and had her take the picture of the rest of us if he’d been there 😉

A Sufi Tale, but not that one from Pinterest.

Losing sight… easy to do…

And there it is– day 3 of Lent.

“When the death of their master was clearly imminent, the disciples became totally bereft. ‘If you leave us, Master,’ they pleaded, ‘how will we know what to do?’ And the master replied, ‘I am nothing but a finger pointing at the moon. Perhaps when I am gone you will see the moon.'” –Sufi Tale

What does Joan have to say?

“The meaning is clear: It is God that religion must be about, not itself. When religion makes itself God, it ceases to be religion. But when religion becomes the bridge that leads to God, it stretches us to live to the limits of human possibility. It requires us to be everything we can possibly be: kind, generous, honest, loving, compassionate, just. It defines the standards of the human condition. It sets the parameters within which we direct our institutions. It provides the basis for the ethics that guide our human relationships. It sets out to enable us to be fully human, human beings.” –Joan Chittister

And she’s a NUN! A nun who super gets it, right?

It’s not about following the rules. At least it shouldn’t be. Yet for so many people it is. Church, religion, it becomes a recipe, a prescription, a set of Ikea instructions.

True, when it comes time to build the MALM or the HEMNES, there’s probably one best way… leftover screws can be dangerous. But when you pull it out of the oven, a pie is a pie is a pie is delicious no matter what recipe you followed.

Related: mmmm… pie.

I think religion is like that. If the religion you follow or don’t follow helps you to be fully human, to be kind, generous, honest, loving, compassionate and just, if it points you in the right direction, then who cares what religion it is? Who cares if we’re taking directions from a different master? The moon is still the moon. A pie is still a pie.

Related: mmmm… moon pies.

Yep. I’m prone to losing sight of what matters.

Work’s been like that for me lately. I’ve been feeling unappreciated… in need of more thanks, more gratitude, recognition, pats on the back, etc. Thanks had become my religion. And I was using it inappropriately.

I Stella-style got my groove back this week though. At least temporarily. I started working on a new grant and it’s kind of awesome.

A lot of work. Tight time line. Little bit of stress. But dang– if we get it, it’s going to help a heck of a lot of people. People who really need help.

And that is the point.

My job matters not because of the thanks, but because I get really great opportunities to help– to encourage physicians and researchers, to empower them to implement new programs, to bring services to people who really need them. Most recently, opioid treatment services for addicts in the northwoods. Recently, for people suffering from a rare genetic disorder. And before that, kids in the foster care system.

Honestly, I’m pretty lucky. Just got to keep my eyes on the prize… and not let myself get convinced that the thanks are what matters. Nor is the salary. Or the hours. Or whatever. I feel fulfilled. I am participating in improvement of the human condition.


Speaking of Sufi tales… I keep seeing this bad boy on Pinterest and tonight it popped up on my Facebook feed:


I’d seen “Sufi” this and “Sufi” that so frequently that I really thought it was one really wise and eloquent person. Turns out it’s an Islamic concept. Fascinating. Thanks, Wiki.

Different recipe, same conclusion. Love.


Jaaaacob… Jacob and sons…

Another day, another conversation with the illustrious Joan!

Today, she quotes Exodus first:

“God is gracious and merciful… slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” –Exodus 34:6

A lovely sentiment, to be sure, but it’s a bit cherry picked, don’t you think? I wouldn’t exactly characterize Old Testament God as “slow to anger” and I’m mid-way through Exodus right now. For the second time– four books into the real version I had to switch to a plain language version of the bible and it’s going much better this time. Cover to cover! An interesting read… although songs from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat were stuck in my head for all of Genesis. Anyway…

Here’s what Joan had to say:

“Who is this God, really? Who is this God whom we have fashioned out of the light of our needs and the hopes of our hearts? When we are vengeful, we tell tall tales of an angry God. When we are sick with our own sin, we find ourselves a God of mercy. When we are pressed down, face in the sand, we know what a God of justice is all about. Is this God? Or is God the measure of how deep our smallness goes, how great our parching thirst for love? Surely God is all of this. And more. The more we cannot in our smallness and our thirst even begin to imagine.” –Joan Chittister

Love. Incomprehensible. All of the above.

Weaver of the tapestry.

The threads made of light and hope. The threads of vengeance and anger. Threads of justice and love. God, the universe, the creator, I AM (as it says in Exodus… I’m basically a biblical scholar at this point, guys) is all of those threads and more. So much more.

At least that’s how I feel.

On Ash Wednesday, Call To Action posted this sentiment on Twitter:

Retweeted that!
Retweeted that!

The more to me is just that: love– what we come from, to where we will return. Love, love, love.

Love doesn’t judge. Love cares. Love forgives and heals and on and on and on. Love is friends. Loves is family. Love is steady, it’s there whether you believe in it or not. It is. I AM.

Lent Conversation #1: Nom Noms for the Soul

I recently bought a new little book.

What’s new, right?

But it’s way more than just a little book– it’s a journal too! And it’s lent-specific. Things to think about every day for 40 days. Kind of excited!

The title of the book is “40 Soul-Stretching Conversations” and every day for the forty days of lent, there’s a little bit of space to write, and two little things to think about– one quotation from someone awesome (e.g. Teresa of Avila) and a reflection on the topic by Joan Chittister (the awesome-est).

So let’s chat about these things, shall we? For 40 days! 40 nights!

Hopefully it’ll be more pleasant than wandering in the desert 😉

So today, conversation numero uno:

“The things of the soul must always be considered as plentiful, spacious and large.” –Teresa of Avila

“But what are the ‘things of the soul’? Surely they are every breath we breathe, every word we hear, every thought we think. The things of the soul have been too long compartmentalized. And so we got religion but not spirituality. We got church but not God. We got the sacred but no the sacredness of the secular. Or better yet, the revelation that there is nothing ‘secular’ at all.” –Joan Chittister

And in reading that very first page… I knew that this was absolutely the book for me. It so eloquently says things that have been swirling and twirling around in my head for a long time now.

Simply put: merely going through the motions cannot feed your soul.

Granted, the entire notion of something “feeding the soul” was completely foreign to me until two short years ago when a woman I met at a conference in Milwaukee asked me about the church I go to– she said, “yes, but are you being spiritually fed?”

I was kind of taken aback at first. How do you answer something like that? How do I know if I’m being spiritually fed?

So I stopped thinking and I answered with my gut.


No, I was not being spiritually fed.

But was that my church’s fault?

Again, no.

It was mine. I wasn’t even looking for food for the soul.

I had church without God. I had religion without spirituality. I had a compartmentalized soul that was so well compartmentalized that it rarely saw the light of day. And not just in the realm of religion/spirituality/the other-worldy-in-other-ways. In everything. What fed my soul just wasn’t a consideration.

My soul, though, has been released from it’s compartment as of late. And dang. That this is hoooooong-ry! Nom nom nom…

Turns out, lots and lots of things can feed my soul. Before that nice, yet rather blunt, lady I had never even thought about it. Now I think about it all the time.

Because I think if I look for the common denominator in all these soul foods, of the metaphorical variety, of course, I think intention is really where it’s at.

My intention changes the way I approach everything, even secular things, and turns them into activities that feed my soul.

When my intention is to build relationships and be the best communicator that I can be, work feeds my soul.

When my intention is to move my body and feel my muscles work, exercise feeds my soul.

When my intention is to spend time preparing good food for myself and my family, cooking feeds my soul.

Anything can feed my soul… if I choose to let it. If I choose to approach it with good intentions, a positive attitude, a sense of optimism, an eye out for the silver lining.

A little soul for everything and everything for my soul.

Nom nom nom…

Cake feeds my soul too... fyi.
Cake feeds my soul too… fyi.