Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Reminders to “be still” & the value therein March 4, 2020

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Minnesota Prairie Roots edited file photo December 2017.

 

WHAT DOES IT MEAN to be still?

The answer to that, I suppose, can be far-ranging depending on context. Ask a child to be still and you likely want them to sit quietly. Waiting.

Ask an adult to be still and you likely want them to listen.

Waiting and listening. Both are important in relationships, in communicating, in understanding.

Now take those two words and consider them from a faith perspective. Be still and know that I am God. That scripture, Psalm 46:10, has once again—thrice in the past several days—popped right before my eyes. And I mean that in the literal sense although “popped” may be a bit of a stretch. While reading the book, Red Letter Challenge, for a Lenten series focus at my church, that bible verse showed up on page 19 in the introduction.

Only two days prior I found Psalm 46:10 penned in my handwriting on an envelope buried in a drawer I haven’t looked in for months.

And then, yesterday, I found a bookmark inside Troubled Minds—Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission by Amy Simpson (a book I’d highly recommend) and gifted to me by a dear friend. She’d tucked the bookmark, with the verse, Be still and know that I am God, inside. I read the book months ago. But a recent sermon on the stigmas of mental illness by the pastor at my friend’s church, Emmaus in Northfield, prompted me to pull the Simpson book from the shelf. And then rediscover the be still bookmark. I’d highly recommend you listen to this sermon series about the “no casserole disease.”

But back to Psalm 46:10. I’ve written here previously about that scripture first emphasized to me by my friend Steve. And then soon thereafter, during an especially challenging period in my family’s life, the bible verse just kept showing up. In hymns, devotionals, on a child’s drawing, on a print in the public restroom of my mom’s care center, on a handcrafted paper angel…

Some might call this coincidence. I don’t. As a woman of faith, I believe these words were meant to be imprinted upon my heart. Psalm 46:10 reminds me that even in the midst of chaos, God is here, with me, carrying me through difficult days, encouraging me to be calm, to be still, to understand that I am not alone.

Nor are you alone. As human beings, we all hold the capacity to be there for one another. To sit quietly. To listen. And then, when we can, offer compassion, support, hope and encouragement. To bring the hotdish when no one else does. To love and embrace. To be there.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Learning to listen January 21, 2020

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I took this photo at an outdoor concert in Faribault several years ago. To me, it illustrates the art of genuine listening. The smile on the woman’s face, the tilt of her head, tell me she is actively listening. Edited Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo July 2016.

 

YESTERDAY IN MY POST honoring the work of Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., I emphasized the importance of listening.

Today, in a blog post published on Warner Press, I also emphasize listening. I wrote this post weeks ago, long before I penned the MLK piece. I encourage you to click here and read “Learning to Listen.” I can’t stress enough the importance of this skill in building and improving relationships, in making this world a better place.

Thank you for listening.

Disclaimer: I am paid for my work as blog coordinator and blogger for Warner Press, an Indiana-based Christian publishing company.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. January 20, 2020

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A student watches a video about Martin Luther King Jr. at the “Selma to Montgomery Marching Along the Voting Rights Trail” exhibit at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, in April 2015. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

AS I FINISHED MY BOWL of oatmeal and blueberries this morning, I watched a portion of Good Morning America. A young boy talked about a program he started, Books N Bros, aimed at “empowering boys, promoting literacy, and bringing awareness to African American literature.”

Sidney’s own challenges—specifically with stuttering and bullying—led him to seek refuge in reading. Now he’s using those negative experiences to make a difference by connecting boys to books. His efforts equal love in action, following the example of Martin Luther King Jr.

King rallied and worked for equality on a national stage. I admire his determination, his strength, his hopes, his dreams to make a positive change in this country. We’ve come a long ways. But much still needs to be achieved in racial and other equality.

 

Visitors could photograph themselves and express their thoughts, as shown here in this Polaroid image posted at the “Selma” exhibit. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2015..

 

While we need leaders like King and young Sidney to publicly champion for change, we, too, must get involved. It takes all of us, from small towns to major metropolitan areas, to stand up, to speak up, to do something, not just sit there.

So how do we accomplish that? Assess your strengths—because we all have them—and then use them in a positive way. For me, writing and photography prove a powerful tool to connect, to uplift, to inform and more. Words matter. They can help or they can hurt, empower or diminish, support or break down. I recognize the responsibilities I carry as a writer. And as a photographer.

I’ve also been gifted with the ability to listen, a skill that seems more and more a rarity in a seemingly me-centered world. But our family, our friends, our neighbors, even strangers, need us to listen. Just listen. Not turn the conversation to ourselves and our experiences and challenges, but to stay focused on the person talking to us. Them. Not us.

I can’t write enough about the need for compassion. The challenges of life—and I’ve experienced plenty—have made me a stronger and more empathetic person. Some good emerges from every difficulty, although we can’t always see that when we are in the thick of whatever.

Like young book-loving Sidney, I was bullied as a child. Because of that, I advocate kindness. If we all were just a little kinder to one another, not talking at or over others, we would all better understand the perspectives and experiences we bring to conversations. In other words, listen. There’s that word again.

 

Photographed in August 2018 in a storefront window of a business in downtown Faribault, Minnesota. I’ve never forgotten this powerful message posted in my community. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

Today and every day, I hope you will take to heart the many inspiring words of Martin Luther King Jr. and live those words. Through your conversations and your actions.

TELL ME: I’d like to hear how King’s words have inspired you.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sometimes you just have to walk away… January 9, 2020

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An especially bright spot in the heart of downtown Faribault is the Second Street Garden, a pocket garden with positive messages like this one. Minnesota Prairie Roots edited file photo August 2019.

 

BY NATURE, I AM a quiet observer. Not introverted. But a watcher, a listener, the person who mostly sits back, especially in a room filled with strong personalities.

But that doesn’t mean I embrace overpowering people, especially those who talk over and at others. That type of self-centered behavior bothers me, bothers being a tempered word choice. Lack of empathy, understanding and compassion hurt personal relationships, communities, countries. I see too many people driven by their goals, their agendas, their misinformed/uninformed assessments of others and of situations. Their “I’m right” and “I don’t care if I’m hurting you” perspectives.

How do you fix that on a personal level? The answer: We usually can’t. I’ve learned that unless someone is willing to engage in civil dialogue, it’s probably a waste of time to even have a discussion. I can only control how I react. And sometimes the best way to react is simply to walk away, to let it go, to extract myself from those who are toxic, who lack empathy and the ability to think beyond themselves.

The Minnesota Nice part of me screams, “That’s not very nice!” But the reality is that we all deserve respect. To be heard and understood and loved. Every. Single. One. Of. Us.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Beyond thoughts & prayers August 7, 2019

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My husband’s hands clasped in prayer. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

TIME AND TIME AGAIN, after a tragedy like the recent mass shootings in El Paso and in Dayton, we hear politicians and others say, “Our thoughts and prayers are with…”

Now, if you’ve followed me long enough, you realize that I am a woman of faith and that I believe in the power of prayer. I also believe in the comfort of words like, “Our thoughts and prayers are with…”

 

Chocolate chunk cookies made especially for me during my recovery last summer from a broken wrist. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

But we need to dig deeper into our toolboxes of compassion. We need to grab tools that allow us to show our compassion. Beyond thoughts and prayers. That action focuses a blog post I wrote for Warner Press and which published on Tuesday. Rather than repeat my post, I direct you to read the piece I penned for this Christian publishing company by clicking here. Full disclosure: I am paid for my posts and for my job as blog coordinator at Warner Press.

We can all learn from each other as we strive to be there for one another. And now, more than ever, we must do exactly that. Be there. Listening. Praying. Actively helping.

TELL ME: How do you help others during challenging times? Please share here and/or on the Warner Press blog. And thank you.

Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Thoughts on listening, understanding & more, plus a poem April 25, 2019

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I’LL BE THE FIRST to admit that I am not bold. I am not a risk taker. I dislike change.

But to read this poem I crafted with magnetic word tiles and posted on my fridge, you might think I am a bold risk taker. Not all of us are. Not all of us can be. And that’s alright. We each hold value in who we are. This poem simply expresses my creativity.

I don’t pretend to be someone I am not. Call me authentic. I like that word.

I am not loud, but I will speak up when necessary. Sometimes the quietest voices are louder than the loudest.

I value listening more than talking. Too many people like the sound of their own voices. We should all strive to listen better. It seems a mostly lost art.

When we listen, compassion and understanding happen. When we place ourselves in the shoes of someone struggling with challenges, we begin to understand. Begin to understand how words and actions can hurt. Or heal.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of judging, of thinking we have all the answers, that everything in life is black-and-white. It isn’t.

Life is a mix of colors. Some days vibrant. Other days muddied. But it is a life we are in together. If only we recognize that and try harder to care for one another. With ongoing understanding, love and compassion.

THOUGHTS?

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

This has to stop, these shootings July 19, 2017

Positive words posted near a garden in the heart of downtown Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

SOMETIMES I COME across an article and accompanying video so profound that I am moved not to tears, but to sobbing.

Often I read those stories in Minnesota Public Radio blogger Bob Collins’ NewsCut column. He rates as one of my favorite writers for his ability to ferret out those stories that touch human emotions. You won’t necessarily see top news stories of the day featured online in NewsCut. But you will read stories that are deeply human, that elicit thought and emotions.

Sometimes Bob makes me laugh. Sometimes cry. Sometimes shake my head. And, almost always, he makes me think. His stories prompt plenty of reader interaction. Whether I agree with comments or not, I always find them interesting.

On Monday Bob published a story and linked to a video in a piece titled A wellness check by police ends with a son dead. The headline grabbed my attention. But it was the video of a grieving father that twisted my gut and made me cry in the deep sort of painful way that heaves your shoulders and unleashes primeval wailing.

In summary, the Massachusetts man’s 26-year-old son, despondent over a break-up with his girlfriend, holed himself up in his room with his dog and a gun. Police were called as was the SWAT Team. The parents were ushered from their home, the father pleading with police to just let his son sleep and to not over-react. I would encourage you to read the entire story and watch the video by clicking here.

 

I purchased this retro tray at an antique/vintage shop in St. Charles for its simple message. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Admittedly, I came to this story with emotions on edge after the police shooting of Justine Damond, 40, in an affluent south Minneapolis neighborhood late Saturday evening. She called 911 to report a suspected assault in an alley by her home, her family says. The death of this Australian woman, who moved to Minnesota several years ago to be nearer her fiance’, has triggered outrage and world-wide attention. And rightly so. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is now investigating the shooting of the unarmed, pajama clad Justine. Few details have been released. The police officer who shot Justine in the abdomen has thus far refused to be interviewed. Justine’s death continues to top the news in Twin Cities media.

Nearly every evening I turn on the 10 o’clock TV news to hear of another shooting in the Twin Cities. A drive-by, a targeted victim, a domestic and, yes, more and more, a fatal shooting by a police officer.

All of this leaves me wondering. Why? Why so much gun violence? Why the increase in fatal shootings by law enforcement officers?

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

Repeatedly, I hear of the need for more officer training. A recently-passed Minnesota state law requires police officers to receive specialized de-escalation, mental health and implicit bias training beginning in July 2018. In my county, that training is already happening and may have factored into a positive outcome for a 61-year-old local man who last week threatened suicide. He survived his crisis when police responded.

With increased societal awareness and openness, we’re seeing an attitude shift in handling of suicide threats and other mental health related calls to police like the one in Massachusetts. Common sense should tell you not to roll in with an excessive show of force and upset an already struggling individual. Lights, sound, action may work in Hollywood, but not necessarily in reality.

 

Sidewalk poetry in downtown Northfield, Minnesota, carries a powerful message. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

We can choose to remain calm, to listen to one another, to be compassionate and caring, whether we are a neighbor, a family member, a police officer or a stranger. I know that’s not always easy in a fluid and tense situation.

But something has to change. Too many people are dying due to gun violence in their homes, in alleys, along city streets, on sidewalks…from Minnesota to Massachusetts.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How we can become better at caring for others June 26, 2017

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Perhaps we could learn something from owls, who have a superb sense of hearing. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Perhaps we could learn something from owls, who have a superb sense of hearing. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU. How often have you thought that and wanted to tell someone:

This is not about your challenge or difficulty. This is about me, what I’m dealing with right now.

Me. See, the person you’re looking at, the person standing right in front of you, the person emailing you, the person calling you, the person you think you’re trying to help. But you’re not. You’ve shifted the focus to yourself. You.

This is not about you, your personal experience projected onto mine or the impact of my situation on you. This is about me. While I empathize that you, too, have dealt with your share of difficulties, now is not the time to talk about them. I don’t need that kind of “help.” I just need you to listen, to hold the unsolicited advice, to encourage, to simply be there. I don’t need to hear your story.

Because I strive for kindness, I usually hold those thoughts inside.

I’m not a self-centered person. In my life, I strive to be compassionate and caring. Like everyone, though, I fail at times.

But I am convinced that, with some effort, all of us can become better at caring for one another. And that begins with listening. I direct you to one of the best articles I’ve read on the topic:

http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/07/opinion/la-oe-0407-silk-ring-theory-20130407

It comes from a 2013 op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times by Susan Silk, a clinical psychologist, and by Barry Goldman, an arbitrator, mediator and author. Titled “How not to say the wrong thing,” this article is a must-read for everyone. It may change the way you approach family and friends who are dealing with health issues, challenges, difficulties. The authors emphasize listening, really listening, and focusing not on yourself but rather the individual in need.

Please read the article and then share your thoughts.

TELL ME:  How do you help friends, family and others through difficulties in life? How have you been helped? Let’s learn from one another.

FYI: Please note that my thoughts here come not only from personal experiences, but also from my observations of others.  So when I use the words “I” and “me,” I’m referencing more than myself. I am grateful for the many genuinely loving and caring people in my life who truly know how to listen.

(H/T Hope Center Facebook page)

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Learn to listen, really listen April 20, 2017

I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN A MAJOR proponent of the art of listening. Listening differs from hearing, which is a physical act. Listening requires close attention to what is being spoken.

I don’t hear well due to a severe sensorineural hearing loss in my right ear. If I walk into a room and someone says hello, I may not hear. And if I do hear, I will scan the room to determine the location of the speaker. I can’t pinpoint sound sources. Put me in a group of people carrying on multiple conversations or before someone speaking too softly and I struggle to hear. Add music or white noise (like a fan or air conditioner or furnace) and I won’t hear anything. Whisper into my right ear and I won’t hear you.

For six years now I’ve dealt with this severe permanent hearing loss. And no, a hearing aid won’t help. My brain processes sound at a slower rate if at all. Every single day I need words repeated to me because I simply do not hear them. It is frustrating and difficult. But I manage.

While an unexplained cause (likely a virus, so my ENT team surmised) forever altered my ability to hear, I remain committed to the art of listening. It is a skill I honed decades ago, first as an introverted child and later as I studied journalism and worked as a newspaper reporter. To be a good journalist, you have to be a good listener.

 

My column on trustworthiness, courtesy of The Virtues Project, Faribault.

 

I use that skill of listening beyond my chosen profession as a writer. I practice good listening in my everyday life and consider myself a good listener. I wrote on the topic of listening as it relates to the virtue of trustworthiness for The Virtues Project, Faribault. The Virtues Project is a “global initiative to inspire the practice of virtues in everyday life.” Virtues like honesty, understanding, caring, respect and more are being addressed each week in columns published in the Faribault Daily News. This was my week to write on trustworthiness in a column titled “Learn to Listen, Really Listen.”

From 10 a.m. to noon this Saturday, The Virtues Project, Faribault Team will expand on listening during a workshop on “The Art of Companioning.” That process is defined as “just listen to a person when they are sharing their story—without judgment, expectations, or fixing. Often times a hearing ear is just what the other person really wants, and when we do that, we are giving the person a chance to come up with their own solution.” The event will be held in the Buckham Memorial Library Great Hall in Faribault and is open to all at no cost. We could all benefit from learning and implementing the art of companioning.

TELL ME: Do you consider yourself to be a good listener? Why?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Don’t tell me you’re “fine” when you’re not & other insights March 5, 2017

 

HOW ARE YOU? I’ve never liked that question, even realizing the underlying kindness that laces those three trite words.

The standard answer of “I’m fine” is expected. The truth most often is not.

 

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Now Minneapolis writer Nora McInerny Purmort—who has faced her share of “I’m not fine” days—tackles the “How are you?” question in a podcast series from American Public Media. Terrible, (Thanks for Asking) is a must-listen series in which Nora seeks only honest responses to “How are you?”

I’ve listened to one podcast thus far. “Unbroken” features an interview with sexual assault survivor Sarah Super. It’s an incredible, horrible, powerful and, yes, sometimes graphic, story. But so worth your time for the insights revealed. Sarah is one strong woman. And we can learn so much from her about the importance of speaking up, of being heard and more.

Both she and Nora address the issue of silence. And, yes, I picked that from the interview because silence is all too pervasive. I’m talking the hard, uncomfortable silence that those who have suffered trauma, those who are dealing with health issues, those who are facing unimaginable difficulties and challenges hear. Yes, hear. Silence truly can be deafening.

Sarah cites the reason many friends and loved ones remained silent following her assault: “I didn’t know what to say or do.”

Puh-lease.

“Your silence,” Sarah says, “feels like apathy.” The definition of apathy is lack of interest, enthusiasm or concern. Lack of. Imagine how that feels to your loved one who is hurting. Lack of.

Nora reiterates Sarah’s thoughts: “Silence hurts when you are on the other end of something awful.”

In an interview with National Public Radio about her podcast series, Nora repeats, “The worst thing—and it doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with death, or if you’re dealing with all of these other things that we’ve talked to people about—silence is the worst thing you can hear from people.”

She gets it. Within six weeks, this young woman lost her father to cancer, miscarried and then lost her husband to brain cancer. Since then, Nora has authored the book It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool, Too). And now the enlightening podcasts have followed.

What can we learn from all of this? My take-away is this: First, we need to speak up, to end the silence, to really care when we ask someone, “How are you?” And then we need to listen, really listen. That means setting aside our stories, our comments, our whatever, and truly focusing on what the other person is telling us. It’s about them. Not us.

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CHECK BACK TOMORROW for a way that Minnesota is breaking the silence on an issue that affects all of us, directly or indirectly.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling