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Make a List

Money God said is best

Understood when turned

Inside out and on its head


First you need to know

What it’s not


Make a list


Then focus on getting

More of what’s on that list


That list you made

God said

That’s where I come in


Ó Janet O. Hagberg, 2013.

All rights reserved.

Reflections on this poem

How have you turned money on its head in your life?

What is on your list of what money is NOT?

What made you realize what money can’t buy?

Where does God connect with your list?

Fear as a Spiritual Gift

It may seem strange to think of fear as a spiritual gift since it is one of the most pervasive and destructive emotions, right up there with hatred, rage, and self-loathing. Yet countless courageous saints transformed their fear into a spiritual gift; Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., Teresa of Avila. How can we learn to claim fear as a gift?

For me, it’s helpful to first understand where fear comes from. Some of it is right in my DNA, the fear of saber-tooth tigers that I inherited from my ancestors. Some fear comes from the culture in the form of the daily news, prime time drama and radio talk shows. But I believe that my most intimate fear comes from my family, my role models for living my life.

One useful way I experienced my family’s fear was to do a guided imagery meditation. I started by getting quiet and asking God to surround me with light and love. Then I imagined my family, in my early teen years, sitting around the dinner table. During dinner someone knocks on the door, bringing us news that triggers an emotional and financial crisis. In my case the person tells us my dad has lost his major business client and we could be ruined financially. I imagine what each person does when this news breaks. My Dad gets mad and yells at us, my mother cries, my brother leaves to go and drink, and I try to soothe my mom and then I disappear emotionally. But very quickly we all squelch our emotions and jump into gear, moving to a solution.

What I learned from my family is still my first inclination in a crisis. I quickly comfort my loved ones and then disappear. I stay away from the fire. Protect myself. Shut down emotionally so I don’t have to feel. Then I forge a solution. I have done this countless times and the fear usually ends up lodging in my body as digestion problems, muscle cramps or spasms, tension headaches and other signs of ill health.

In the last several years I have consciously chosen to face into my fear instead of relying on the old script. I was worn out and needed some new ways to address fear. I’ve found that by bringing God directly into my fear, my fear can evolve into deeper self-awareness, courage, and, at times, transformation. God chooses imaginative ways for me to gain insights into my fear and the danger of not facing it.

Dreams are one of those ways. At a key juncture of my life I had a vivid dream that I believe came directly from God. I was inside of a train box-car which was moving in the shape of a figure eight, the symbol for infinity. The car was locked—and on fire. On the outside of the car was a plaque with my mother’s name on it. That dream, a fiery warning to me to break away from my mother’s life script, which had a death grip over me, was a turning point in my life. My mother died tragically young, partly because she could not face the fear in her life, especially her marriage. I felt I could die young too, if I did not face the fear in my own marriage. After that dream I couldn’t go back to my old script if I wanted to survive. It still took me several years to live into the new truths the dream brought me, but it took me to a new way of life. In facing into my fear and embracing it as a spiritual practice, I found a journey into deeper intimacy with God.

Fear is usually a signal that something new is calling us. We are being asked to let go, to step up to the plate, to release someone or something, to change a system, to live a new script, or to take a new direction. Whatever the call is, I find it becomes much more clear when I bring God consciously into the process of listening to my fear. A few of the ways I’ve found to bring God into the process are through art, dreams, journaling, prayer, scripture, poetry, honest conversations, staying in the present, processing unusual experiences, listening to body symptoms, and using wise counsel. God speaks to me in each of these ways, at times using all of them to get my attention. I consciously pray for the clarity to see what God is calling me to do and the courage to live it out.

Another effective way to face our old scripts about fear is to ask God to help us re-write our original family script that has had such a stronghold on us. I went back into the guided meditation of my family at dinner. But when the knock on the door came and we opened it, Jesus was at the door with the messenger. In my imagination, after the news broke, Jesus pulled up another chair, sat down and immediately took me in his lap. He put his arm around my brother and held him gently so he stayed in the room. He asked my dad to just be quiet and breathe for a while before we spoke, and he looked at my mother with calm compassionate eyes so she could stay present too.

We talked about our fears, anger and anxiety in ways that all of us could express. No jumping into action, no disappearing, no scape-goating. Then he reminded us of the other times we had experienced crises that had worked out well. He stayed right there with us. He gave us hope and compassion and love. I knew, after I reframed my family conflict, I could be confident, since Jesus would be my strength in times of fear.

Two of the most repeated words in scripture are “Fear not.” I think there is a reason for that. We are all afraid, more than we know. But God is present in fear. That is precisely where we encounter God. After each declaration of “Fear not” in scripture, a promise follows; for I am with you; for unto you a savior is born; for you have found favor with God. So if we embrace our fear and let God into it, if we allow our fear to be our teacher and to guide us into more intimacy with God, then fear is a spiritual gift. And what a gift!

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2009. All rights reserved.

Reflections on this essay

Try doing the guided mediation with your family as a child. What is the news?

How does each person react? How do you react? What is the result?

Do you still react as you did in your family? How does it work for you now?

When have you had a chance to break the family script, to do it differently? How did it work?

What are your best ways to face fear and bring God into it?

Try doing the meditation again, bringing Jesus into the reframing of your family crisis. What happens differently? What is the result? How do you feel in this script?

Gaining Wisdom From a Grocery Bag

It’s kind of embarrassing for me to admit that I learn some of my best lessons from the most trivial experiences. But I find that what I learn from the trivial experiences symbolizes larger issues in my life. Take the grocery bag issue, for instance.

I was driving my friend, Harriet, to the pizza place and then on to the grocery store and it triggered the memory that two weeks ago, when I had picked up a few extra things for her, I had forgotten to take back my new cloth grocery bag (environmentally friendly and politically correct). I casually commented that I needed to get that bag back so I could avoid using paper and plastic. As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I felt uncomfortable and I wasn’t quite sure why. All the way to the pizza place I reflected on it and then I said to Harriet, “Cancel what I said about the bag. You can keep the bag and I can get both of us another bag when we go grocery shopping.”

In those few minutes I had processed a lot of things. First, I reflected on my discomfort about getting my bag back. It came from the feeling that I needed that bag. It represented something missing from my stuff if I didn’t get it back–it was mine and someone else had it. I was keeping track of my stuff, like people track books or money they lend. I might even be diminished in some way if I didn’t get it back. No thought to how it would be if I willingly gave it up!

If I go a little deeper, I can feel that this clinging to my stuff, even the most trivial stuff, is really a sign of my scarcity mentality. It goes like this, “If I don’t get that bag back, I may be in need and not have enough. At some point there may not be enough stuff (insert the word food or jobs or money or whatever) to go around and I may have to go without and then I will be really scared.” None of this is at the conscious level, of course, which is why my clinging to my bag is sort of funny. Clinging to a grocery bag, which costs a dollar, as if it was a source of security! But this mentality also shows up in bigger things, like my time, my willingness to listen to others who differ from me, my willingness to have a smaller and simpler life style.

My friend, Harriet, who is from Uganda and has a powerful story of fleeing the country to come to America as a refugee, is generous with all of her things and gives me food and love all the time. She has almost nothing yet she is usually grateful and willing to share. I am learning from her that it is not about what I have, it is about what I’m willing to share, believing that I will be just fine. What Harriet would say, about giving the grocery bag to someone, is “God will provide.” And she would mean it, because she has experienced it so many times in her crisis-ridden life.

The scarcity life is not healthy for me but neither is the opposite, the abundance mentality, whereby if I just visualize what I want I can get it. This feeds my wants and desires without ever checking to see if God has anything to say about whether those things would actually be good for me. I find this approach feeds my power and ego more than is healthy for me and often leads me to ask for things to fill my emptiness rather than to look at the emptiness to see what it teaches me. It’s not that I don’t deserve abundance, but I’m choosing, instead, to trust in God to be my source of security and fulfillment. And if I really look underneath my desire for abundance, I find that my fear of not having enough is just as present there.

So what is the option that makes more sense? If fear underlies my sense of scarcity and abundance, how can I find a spirit of having enough? I can move to a place of sufficiency. Sufficiency is neither scarcity nor abundance. It is enoughness. It is satisfaction with what I already have and gratefulness for what I will receive without clinging to either. It encourages me to live on a sort of edge where I can’t count on a whole storage bin full of what I want, but to live as if I will always have what I need. It requires trust and dependence on the Holy and on divine providence, not on my own will and power. It is simultaneously scary and awesome. It is sacred space.

When the Israelites fled Egypt and were moving slowly through the wilderness, they complained that they did not have enough food. Moses asked God about this and God provided a daily meal, called manna, to every household. If they stored it and didn’t eat it, out of fear that they would not have enough, it rotted. If they ate too much, they did not have enough to feed everyone. So each day they had to trust that God would provide more manna. This required courage, to go out each day to collect the manna that appeared on their doorstep.

I gave my grocery bag to Harriet with a glad heart. We even laughed about it. But now I think of my dilemma with the grocery bag as a manna story. It reminds me that I didn’t trust God’s manna. So when I think of manna it is easier to hold all of my stuff lightly.

If you want to have an experiential understanding of clinging to your stuff, try giving away your very favorite thing or the thing you thought you could never part with, and see what it stirs in you. Think of manna and see if you feel any more freedom after you release your favorite thing.

©Janet O. Hagberg, 2009. All rights reserved.

Reflections on this essay
When have you had a sudden awareness that things may need to change or be different, a “grocery bag” experience? What was it? How did it change you?

When have you felt scarcity or lived out of a scarcity mentality? How does it affect you and your relationship with others?

When have you experienced abundance? How did this affect you and your relationship with others? Was it spiritual abundance or some other kind?

When have you experienced sufficiency? How does it affect your heart and your stance towards God, yourself, others?

Would you be willing to give away one of your favorite belongings and see how things shift in you? Why or why not? What reasons do you give for keeping your things? Can you see this as humorous?

You Learned Along the Way not to Believe in Love

Reflections on this poem

What miracles have you experienced along the way in your life?
Do you still doubt God too?
How do you experience God sitting patiently with you while you experience your own doubts?
How are you experiencing the depths of God’s love?
How is God gently holding you in his arms?

Thanks to Michael Bischoff for his gentle hand in the producing of this and all my other poems/videos.

I am making my debut as an artist this month at Art-a-Whirl, the artistic celebration in NE Mpls. I would be so delighted if you could come and celebrate with me and several other artists. We’ll have wearable art, icons, well-beings!, jewelry and other wonders.

We will be at Studio 1400, the new studio in the home of my friend–Georgia. The address is 1400 3rd Street NE, just two blocks north of Broadway and one block west of University.

We make wicked good brownies and chocolate chippers!

Dates: Saturday May 18 12-5 and Sunday May 19 2-5

I am also sending you all a video of one of my poems. Although it’s not directly about money, which is my theme this month, it is about doubt and love and God. These three seemed to be really about money after all!

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