Better than a Pen Pal

One of my favorite classes in elementary school was geography, especially in Miss Harrington’s fourth grade.  I loved how we learned about the lives of people in faraway places.  Back in that day, we would say they lived ‘overseas’ and that seemed like an insurmountable distance.  The only people in my family that had traveled that far were the men in the military.  For me, the closest thing to going there would be having a pen pal—something I read about in My Weekly Reader, our individual newspapers that we received on Fridays.

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Back then, our class didn’t pursue a pen pal relationship with a classroom in another country—like the French students did at McDougle Middle School where I was the nurse.  While the idea fascinated me when I was a girl, my interest wasn’t keen enough to pursue that on my own.  The closest I came was making Christmas cookies with my Girl Scout Troop and sending them to soldiers serving in Vietnam.  Months later, I was so excited when we received thank you letters.  How special to see that envelope with the unusual stamp and my name in the soldier’s handwriting.

Today the world’s very different with how we’re surrounded by people of so many nationalities.  While they bring the world to us, there’s still something about having a friendship by correspondence with someone living far away.  Perhaps it’s that feeling from childhood, the sense of mystery in wondering what their community is like, how their daily routine is in that foreign place.

Last September, I spent a week at the Abbey in Iona, Scotland with forty-one people from around the world.  We all went there to learn from our leader, Alistair McIntosh, about The Pilgrimage of Life.  Because we came as fellow sojourners with the common need to explore our life journey, we quickly formed a bond.  Recently the email list was sent to all the participants.  There were folks that I’d enjoyed time with but had failed to get their address.  I sent them a message and now think of it as sending a letter to a pen pal that I never had as a girl.  With my electronic letters, I didn’t have to wait for weeks for a response.  Instead, I had notes back within forty-eight hours.

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Meeting room at the Abbey

One of my messages went to Jenny and John, a lovely couple from Australia.  How nice that Jenny responded with a newsy email about recent visits with family and friends and her work as a minister in the Presbytery.  It was as if we were sitting at one of the tables sipping tea and eating oatcakes, as our group did each night in the Refectory.  I could feel her warm presence and hear her lovely Aussie accent.

And then there was the message to Aldo in Holland.  He was the one who’d called my Southern accent “weird”  (See post, Southern Drawl, Oct. 11, ’17).  He had such a thirst for understanding and was so open to discovery through the process of that week.  It was refreshing to see an adult who had that kind of energy for faith– given how worn down we can be by the time we reach mid-life.  What a gracious response he had to my email and blog post.  How exciting to hear of his plans for a future journey.

The urban Dictionary (www.urbandictionary.com) defines a Pen Pal as, “A species of human made nearly extinct by the advent of electronic mail, penpals communicate via the ancient art of Penmanship.” Ouch! Makes me feel ancient!

Maybe I’ll create a hybrid form of pen pals by emailing Jenny and Aldo and asking them to write me back.  Then I can enjoy that ancient art of penmanship, excited by their unique handwriting on those envelopes with the foreign stamps waiting for me in my mailbox.

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Our group taking a pilgrimage across Iona to important landmarks

How About You?

Have you ever had a Pen Pal?

What was that experience like for you?

Are there people you connect with through email or social media from other countries?  How does that impact your life?  How do you think it impacts theirs?

 

Sedona: A Serendipitous Journey

Taking yearly pilgrimages started after my serendipitous journey to Sedona.  What made that such a pivotal point, was the juxtaposition of entrapment with freedom.  During the preceding eight months of cancer treatment, I’d been closely monitored; by the clinical trials research company I worked for to see if I was able to do my job; by my family and friends to see how I was physically and emotionally holding up.  While my employer was difficult and my family and friends well-meaning, both made me want to escape to a place where I was free to move about, unnoticed.

Between two business meetings out West, I took my trip to Sedona, Arizona.  If it had been up to me, I would have returned to North Carolina between those meetings, to see my husband and teenage sons so I wouldn’t be away for so long.  But the company business manager suggested I stay in the area and travel.  After considering her idea, I thought she was right.  My mother had visited a friend in Sedona and said it was one of the prettiest places she’d ever seen.  Since it was within two hours of my first meeting, the business manager and I agreed that it would work.

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Unlike all the negative things that happened during my employment there, the support for me traveling to Sedona was serendipitous.  It was something good, beneficial that happened by accident at a time where I was seeing no other ‘happy accidents.’

Because it was not something I’d planned at length, like other things in my life, I was in a state of receptivity to what that new experience would offer.  I didn’t have a list of ‘must see’ places or companion travelers to work out the details of where to eat, or “What’s next?”  It was just me moving as I felt led, following that still small voice of God within me instead of a schedule.

How freeing for a mother of teenagers, used to balancing work and family.  What a wonderful change from going to the countless appointments of those intensive months of cancer treatment.

Instead, I drove around the red-rock-splendor and absorbed the beauty of each moment.  How nice it was to take a quiet hike at Oak Creek on a weekday, sitting in the grounding presence of the shadow of those rock formations.

I lit a candle in The Chapel of the Holy Cross and thanked God for my life and for the unexpected time in Sedona.  It wasn’t something that I’d asked for; It wasn’t something that I knew I needed.  My heart was full of gratitude for the abundance God had provided.

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Throughout my toxic job and cancer ordeal, my go-to scripture was Psalm 40: 1-2 (NIV): “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”  Remembering that day when I drove into Sedona, I had a feeling that I had come home, like God my Rock was leaping off the page.  Of all the places I could go for that serendipitous trip, my ‘happy accident’ led me to a place of rocks– and later I would learn, of energy and healing.

Sedona opened my eyes to other ‘happy accidents.’  I see how good things have shown up in my path– things I haven’t asked for, things I didn’t know I needed.  Now, when I see images of that special place, it reminds me that God my Rock is still leaping off the page.

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How About You?

How have you experienced serendipitous events in your life?

What impact have they had on your journey?

True Nature

I spotted the girl from across the room.  She was the one, looking unabashedly into the camera, with eyes that are serious, like they’re gazing into your soul.  I was at the Art Cats Gallery in Petoskey, Michigan during my solo journey several summers ago.  The photograph had been applied to a fiber art collage piece created by Michigan artist, Karen Godfrey.

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I knew that I liked mixed media art, but wasn’t sure why that piece drew me.  Later, I realized that the girl reminded me of myself when I was a child.  The pieces of fabric were like those in Mama’s sewing trunk that I used to make doll clothes.  I could see Mama, with a pattern pinned to fabric and the sound of her pinking shears cutting through the layers of cloth and tissue paper.  I’d watch as she skillfully worked to make those pieces into a beautiful whole.

The hand-stitching around the girl’s picture reminded me of how my Aunt Polly taught me to embroider.  Once I got the hang of it, I worked late into the night, watching the Irish blessing kit that I’d bought at the 5 & Dime become my first piece of fiber art.  Unlike the dresses Mama made that were both artistic and functional, my creation was just decorative and brought me delight.

The words in the prayer, “May all beings awaken to their true nature,” reminded me of my love for words in their meaning as well as their form.  I thought of my diary and the plays I penned in sixth grade.

But altogether, the girl’s look and prayer make me ask myself, “Am I living my True Nature now?”

Years ago when visiting Savannah, Georgia, I stopped in the studio of artist Brian MacGregor.  We had an enjoyable conversation about how he used dream journals in his collage art.  I loved his evocative piece, “Lady of the River.”  Now I see that it reminded me of how I wished I’d been in my early twenties –more relaxed, less driven toward my goals and more able to float in a river of possibility.

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I ask myself, “What is my true nature?” and at this latter phase of my life, am I living into that nature.  I think of how who we are emerges over our lifetime.  It shows up in our daydreams and in our night dreams.  Looking back over my sixty-two years, I see themes in the hopes and dreams I’ve recorded in my journals.  All of them are pieces of the collage that is me.

This past New Year’s Eve, my blog post, “Things You Leave Behind” (Dec. 31,’17) focused on letting go of what keeps us from being all we were created to be.  The burden I threw into the Iona Sound was my fear of not being good enough.  My desire was to be less self-conscious and to step out as I felt led– without worrying about making mistakes.

Now, I think that in order to continue on the path of living into my True Nature, that letting go of fear is a necessary step.  To continue to allow my unfolding, even at this point in my life, I need to be able to relax in that freedom that I can have in my sixties that I couldn’t access in my earlier years.

It’s as if that girl is looking into herself as an older woman and saying, “I’m glad you’re finally awakening to the person you’re supposed to be.”

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My collection of collage books

Artists’ websites:

http://www.karengodfrey.net

https://brianmacgregor.net

How about you?

What art form has special relevance for you?

How are you progressing toward realizing more of your True Nature?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manna

I thanked my friend for the “Thinking of You” card she’d sent, the one in my mailbox on top of the stack of bills.  “Oh, that ole thing?  I’m sorry it wasn’t a better one but it was what I had.”  I knew why she’d said that; the card was a bit faded and the fold was partially torn, like the paper had become brittle over time, reminding me of one of the cards stored in my Grandma’s drawer for future use.  But my friend didn’t know that it was more than a card to me.  It was manna.

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I’d received it the day before my chemo.  When I was rushing out of the house to get to my appointment, I put the card in the book that I’d read to help me through the three-hour infusion.  I read for a while, then took out the card and studied the design and reread her handwritten note.  Over my eight months of treatment, I would do the same thing with cards from others.  Afterwards, I stored them in a satchel.  If I ever doubted that others’ cared about me, I’d take the satchel down from my closet shelf and marvel at the numbers of colorful cards with thoughtful notes of encouragement.  Those cards had nourished me through my ‘wilderness journey.’

One night in December, before I was diagnosed with breast cancer the following June, I was up in the early morning hours, having a hard time sleeping.  I was at my mother’s and got out of bed to sit in her family room.  Next to the recliner, there was a bookshelf with Mama’s Bible.  I thumbed through it with no particular scripture in mind and stopped at Exodus Chapter 16.  I read the story of the traveling Israelites receiving “bread from heaven” in the form of manna—a white substance, like coriander seed, that covered the ground like frost in the early morning, providing just enough for one day’s sustenance.  With Christmas approaching, it would have felt more appropriate to be reading about the journey of Mary and Joseph.  It’s odd to land on this chapter, I thought.  But later that year when I was going through cancer, that sleepless night when I’d read about manna came back to me.

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I remembered my takeaway from that chapter –that God supplied their needs, one day at a time.  When I went through treatment, there were so many times that I felt that same provision.  Not only from cards but meals, presents, and phone calls at just the right moment.  Like manna, it was an efficient economy of just what I needed for that moment on that day.  Like the Israelites, I couldn’t look to the next day, but instead needed to just rely on God for that “daily bread.”

Now, I know the importance of just an ‘ole card.’  I’ve made a point of telling my sons, who’ve grown up in the age of emails and text messages, that sometimes you need tangible evidence of someone’s care, something you can hold in your hands.  It really takes so little time and effort to be the manna for someone.  And if it’s time you’re worried about, you can always buy those cards in bulk and store them away.

Because when it all comes down to it, it’s the thought that counts.

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How about You?

When have you received manna in your life?

In what ways have you provided manna for others?

The Rhythm of the Day

I arrived at the two-week writer’s residency in central Kentucky, expecting to have to juggle my time between farm chores, shared kitchen duties with fellow artists, providing a community educational program, and writing.  But when I got there, nothing was as I expected.  The herd of cows had been sold, there was no garden, and there were no residents but me.  I had the run of the small two-story house.  What else is going to be different from what I was led to believe, I wondered.  Maybe it was a mistake to come here.

I’d put a lot of energy into the lengthy application for the residency.   I started not to apply because I’d felt intimidated by the accomplishments of previous artists.  I was such a humble writer with only small publications to my credit and wondered if I’d feel ‘less than’ the others artists that would be with me.

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My walking path while at the writer’s residency

No problem with that, I thought to myself as I put my suitcase in my upstairs bedroom then unpacked my food in the kitchen, my kitchen now.  There was no one to be compared to, or talk to or cook meals with.  Just me, in this house in rural Kentucky for two weeks.  How am I going to do it?

I sat for a while at the kitchen table, eating my dinner in the quiet.  After a while, I could hear a car in the distance, coming up the lane that ran by the house.  An owl hooted from the woods out back.  The stillness reminded me of staying with my Grandma Smith on her farm when I was a girl.  I remembered how restless I felt at first after Mama and Daddy left, knowing I had to manage in that house for a week.  I loved being with Grandma, but it was so quiet there and sometimes boring.

The first day at her house was really slow and I kept thinking about what I’d do if I were at home.  But eventually, I gave in to the rhythm of Grandma’s.  When she worked outside in her garden, I helped her until we came in for lunch.  We’d eat, wash the dishes, do some simple household chores, then rest until the sun was low in the sky and we’d go back outside.

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My two-week home

Nothing felt rushed, just steady work that followed the natural rhythm of the day.

When it rained, we had more time to rest, and if I was smart and had brought a book, I had extra time to read.  By the middle of the week, the day felt familiar, and by the end of the week and time for my parents to pick me up, I felt sad that I would be leaving.

A similar pattern emerged in Kentucky.  When  I met the director, he assured me all I needed to do was write.  Never had I been given permission to just write for two weeks.  Since there was no longer a farm operation and no groups had requested a summer writing workshop, I didn’t need to juggle my time.  The quiet house had no television and no internet connection so I wouldn’t have the distractions of home.  I’d limit my consumption of social media by having to drive to the town library to use their wifi.

My days of writing, mostly at that kitchen table, were balanced with long walks across the hilly countryside in the cool of the early morning and at dusk.  I took breaks from my solitude to visit horse farms and a racetrack in Lexington.  Never had I been able to work with such concentration.  I came to see it as truly a gift, one I wouldn’t have received if I’d insisted on feeling ‘less than’ and had not taken the risk of applying.

When I arrived, nothing appeared as it had seemed.  When I departed, everything felt like it was as it was supposed to be.

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What about you?

What situation have you encountered that was nothing like what you expected?

How were you able to deal with that change?

How did things turn out?

 

 

Not Like Me

I watched that ‘hunk of burnin’ love’ from across the crowd.  It had been a fun day, riding my bike around Mackinac Island in northern Michigan and then happening upon the outside summer concert.  I wasn’t content to just watch ‘Elvis,’ I wanted to get up close to him.  As soon as he finished his show, I made my way across the plaza to where he exited the stage.  Motioning to him, I got his attention and asked, “Could I have a picture?”  That’s not like me.

Usually, I would observe at a distance and watch other women do what I was now doing.  But since I was by myself, on my solo journey to Michigan, I had none of those well-perfected signals from my husband that reigned in my spontaneous behavior, or from my sons, since they weren’t there to hold me back with their embarrassment or “Oh, Mom!” exasperation.

Elvis gave me a sideways hug as we posed for the camera.  In that exciting nostalgic moment, I was in ninth grade, catching a dizzying whiff of English Leather and feeling my heart pound when my teenage crush asked me to dance and the newly released,“Suspicious Minds” played.   fullsizeoutput_a

Now when I look at the picture, it always makes me feel more lighthearted and glad that I wasn’t held back from what I wanted to do.  It reminds me of another time when I’d surprised myself with my uninhibited behavior.

It was back when I was just out of cancer treatment and finally able to travel.  I attended a research conference in San Francisco along with my coworker from The Research Company.  There were over 300 attendees in the hotel ballroom where the opening session was held.  Of all the speakers that could kick off that meeting, they had a breast cancer survivor who’d benefitted from clinical trials.  She was there to thank and inspire the crowd before the scientists had their turns.  Sitting in the middle of the large room, I felt like I was on that stage when she told about pulling out gobs of hair after she started chemotherapy.  Her hair was short and wavy like my new, post-cancer hair.  While it was hard to listen, it felt like she was the one person I could identify with.

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Another participant shakes hands with the speaker

When she finished, I made my way across the room to the line of people waiting to speak with her.  I’d never done that before.  I was usually content to be just one in the crowd– but not that day.  When it was my turn, I told her how I’d just finished chemo and was getting used to my new hair, too.

“And you’re a research professional?  That’s wonderful,” she said, and we chatted for a while.

I noticed a man that was standing very close to us and appeared to be eavesdropping.  After we finished and I started to walk away, he stopped me.  He apologized for listening in and said he was a reporter with the San Francisco Chronicle.  He asked if I’d mind telling him more about my experience as a cancer survivor who was also a research professional.  When we finished our conversation, he said the article would be in the next day’s paper.

And there it was.  The article pictured above had my quote at the end.  Me, in San Francisco, having the final word.  How did that happen, I thought and laughed to myself.

Now I look at both situations and think that the combination of wanting to connect with the fellow cancer survivor and with Elvis, and not being held back by being afraid I would embarrass myself or someone else, had pushed me to be a bolder person.

Someone Not Like Me.

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View of Lake Huron at Sunset the night I saw ‘Elvis’

How about you?

In what situations have you stepped out of yourself and been bolder than you imagined?

What conditions needed to be present for you to do that?

 

Surprised by #GoingSocial

I walked away from the pitch session at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers’ Conference, stunned yet hopeful.  The literary agent had shown interest in my memoir.  She had a couple of suggestions for the text—easy fixes, I thought.  But then she’d added, “I want you to get your social media following up to 2-3K in the next six months.  Then contact us.”

How in the world am I going to do that?

What she told me was consistent with everything I was hearing at the conference; writers’ had to develop their platform using social media.  They suggested focusing on growing a couple of areas.  Since I’d worked on my Author FB page, Saved by Sedona, it seemed the places I needed to grow were my blog and Twitter.  My friend had set up my Twitter account five years earlier, and I dabbled with it for a short while, enough to gather a few followers.  But I hadn’t looked at it in a long time and barely knew what a hashtag was.

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The Sunday after the conference, I felt overwhelmed.  From what I’d learned, I needed to build a new blog site and produce two posts per week, as well as become engaged with Twitter.  I was clueless about how to start on Twitter.  In my morning prayer, I told God I didn’t think I could do it.  But my deep desire to publish my memoir remained.  Now it seemed the route to that goal had to go through social media at a deeper level than I’d wanted.

After I prayed, my older son called.  He seldom contacted me at that time.  When he asked how I was doing, I told him how overwhelmed I felt.

“Ah, you can do it, Mom,” Brooks said.  “I’ve only been on Twitter four months and I have over four-hundred followers.”  That was news to me because he’d deleted his Facebook account and said it was a waste of time.

“People wanted to know about our golf course renovations,” Brooks continued, “so I started tweeting pictures and a description of the steps we were taking.”

I was encouraged.  The person in my path to support me at that moment was my son.

After our conversation, I started with one tweet at the time, learning from observing others.  What amazed me were that people from all over the world were on Twitter—unlike my friends on Facebook who were mostly in the United States.  And while I thought they’d all be much younger than me, that wasn’t true.  And now that I say that, age shouldn’t have held me back (see post “If I Live to be 100″ Jan. 28, ’18).

Over the last six months, I’ve gradually learned how to navigate the Twitter path.  One day I sent a message to a writer in England, thanking her for retweeting my post.  I told her it was helpful since I was working to increase my social media following.  She advised me not to worry about that, just to keep writing.  It was an unexpected encouragement from ‘across the pond.’

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Besides Twitter, I’ve worked to improve the content and frequency of my blog.  Sometimes that’s been really hard, and I’ve felt like I was running out of ideas (see post “Dry Well” Jan. 14, ‘18).  But, it’s forced me to depend on God for inspiration and to help me maintain my commitment.  In fact, this is the seventieth post since the conference!  Thanks so much for reading.  You’ve helped me to keep stepping forward.

I’ve been surprised by all the connections I’ve made through my blog.  I’ve met breast cancer survivors from the UK and Ireland and had conversations with a woman I met on my pilgrimage in Scotland.  In a recent post when I was feeling sad about my mother’s dementia, I was encouraged by readers who lifted me up from my despair with their caring comments.

My interactions on Twitter and my blog have made me feel more connected to others from around the world.  I remember back to when I received the book, The Prayer of Jabez after I was fired from The Research Company (see post “Enlarge My Territory” Nov. 29,’17).  I’d come to realize over the years that my pilgrimages had enlarged my territory.

Now, I think that my territory has also been enlarged by social media.  God has blessed me through the #peopleinmypath that I’ve encountered through Tweets and Blog responses.  The #stillsmallvoiceofGod has spoken in new ways and I hear my son’s voice with the message of God, “Do not be Afraid.”

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How about you?

What are ways that engaging in social media could enlarge your territory?

If that is not the right vehicle for you, what other ways could you enlarge your connections that you may have been resisting?

 

 

 

 

If I Live to be 100

It was a lazy Sunday afternoon on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.  I was fifty-two and staying at my first hostel while on my solo journey that June.  Since Sunday had always been a family day, I felt drawn to visit one of the sites on the island, Polly Hill Arboretum, that reminded me of a favorite aunt.  When I was a girl, Daddy’s sister, my Aunt Polly, had lived with our family on our farm for several years.  She taught me about the forest flora when we tramped through the woods and flowers when we planted in the spring.  I took the island shuttle to the arboretum, wanting to feel the familiar comfort of family while I was over seven-hundred miles from my North Carolina home.

There were only a few folks when I arrived around noon.  I took my time going through the exhibits in the Visitor Center then walked outside to explore.  The grounds of the arboretum had formerly been a sheep farm before Polly Hill’s parents had turned the property into their summer home in 1926.  When Polly inherited the property at the age of fifty, she planted seeds in a small nursery bed.  She didn’t resort to the quicker method of using plants; she started the slow process with seeds and was reportedly a practical gardener who learned from trial and error.

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Polly Hill Arboretum Visitor Center

I walked about the twenty cultivated acres with a wide variety of plants and trees including favorites of a kousa dogwood allee, perennial border, and monkey puzzle tree.  Eventually, I found an apple orchard.  I sat on a bench under a tree and pulled out my lunch of a PBJ sandwich that I’d packed in the hostel kitchen.  Eating in the quiet shade, I could envision Polly Hill sowing a single seed when this land was a blank canvas, a field of possibility.  As time progressed, her vision grew to develop an arboretum.  I thought of how my mind was free for my dreams to expand when I worked outside.

Over time, Polly Hill experimented with seeds that no one would have predicted would grow in that region of the Northeast.  With her patience and generosity, she successfully grew the plants and in time shared them with people around the globe.  What a great work came out of her effort.

At fifty, Polly Hill had no idea that she’d only lived half her life.

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I’m just two years older than she was when she started this, I thought, looking out over the mature plants that she’d sown from seeds.  From what I’d read, Polly Hill wasn’t just an inspiration to horticulturists.  She motivated anyone seeking the determination to change their life at any age.

What if I looked at life without putting an ‘upper age limit’ a ceiling on what I could do?  Seems like Polly Hill just felt inspired to do something and started, carrying it out with a constancy and passion, unaware that she would continue her project for fifty more years until she was 100.

I left the arboretum, feeling like I had as a child after I’d gone for one of our family’s Sunday afternoon visits with relatives.  My parents would talk with their kin inside and I’d explore outside, seeing the clues of how my relatives lived their lives– the crops they grew, animals they raised, secret treasures hidden in their barns and sheds.

Visiting with Polly Hill, I was inspired by how she’d lived her life, starting with a single seed and nurturing it to the point of a productive arboretum.  She hadn’t limited her dream by placing a boundary on it, wondering if it was foolish to pursue such an endeavor so late in life.  She’d moved forward with a steadfast passion and eyes looking toward her goal.

I wanted to be like her.

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More Pictures of Martha’s Vineyard #solojourney at Author Facebook Page- Saved by Sedona 

How About You?

What would you like to do if you didn’t allow your age to be a barrier?

If you’re limited by things besides age, like physical conditions, mobility, is there another way to follow your dream instead of how you originally envisioned it?

Eye on the Sparrow

I sit at the dining room table and write, occasionally looking up at the window where there’s an attached bird feeder.  It’s the first one I’ve ever had so close for my viewing and since the word’s gotten out, we’re attracting lots of small birds and an occasional cardinal.  Now that I’m home a lot more, retired from my full-time work, I have time to watch birds –which seems sort of cliché.  But today I need these little birds, the sparrows that remind me of a message from an earlier time.

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At noon I visited Mama at the nursing home to feed her lunch.  It was a hard visit.  She kept her mouth clamped shut and it was difficult-to-impossible to get her to take even her sweet iced tea—which she usually likes.  Eventually, she took a sip of liquid and then I tried feeding her vegetables but she’d take a few bites then stop, holding the food in her mouth and looking at me with concern.  I would remind her to chew, to swallow, trying to give her body the commands that her brain wasn’t firing due to her dementia.  My last visit, just three days ago, she was smiling some, and would say a few words, and eating well.  But not today.

I checked with the aide assigned to Mama and learned she’d eaten fine at breakfast.  When I described how difficult it was getting her to take her lunch, the aide reminded me, “She does that sometimes.”  I know that’s true but it’s still hard when you can’t make it better no matter what you do.  Finally, I just sat beside Mama and watched an old Gunsmoke episode, telling her how Daddy loved that show, and probably liked Miss Kitty because of her red hair– that was like Mama’s.

I left feeling disheartened but telling myself that the next time I visited she’d probably be better.  When I leave with a sad image of Mama, it helps to replace it with one from childhood when we thought we’d always stay the same.  I remember Mama insisting that we all watch the Billy Graham Crusade after supper.  Sometimes on summer nights, we’d sit there with a pan of butterbeans to shell.  We’d hear Ethel Waters sing “His Eye Is On The Sparrow.”  As much as I wanted to be outside playing until dark, I paid attention to that song.  Years later, when I was going through a tough semester in college, I remember taking a walk and out of the blue, I started singing the chorus: “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free, For His eye is on the sparrow, And I know He watches me.”

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My Hallmark Retirement Card, Design by Marjolein Bastin

I was comforted by the scripture referenced by the song found in Matthew 10:29-31, that said that even when sparrows fall to earth that God notices, and so then how much more God notices us, His children.  Thinking about how even those little sparrows at my feeder are noticed by God, reminded me of the crusade song.  Leaving the nursing home with a heavy heart, I knew that God saw my sorrow, that He watches me.  I called my friend who immediately asked, “What’s wrong?” and then we talked my entire fifty-minute trip home, God applying a balm to my heart through the care of my friend.

When we moved Mama to the nursing home, we cleaned out her house for it to be rented.  One of her things that I chose as a keepsake was a small dish with a bird.  I remember seeing it on the shelf when I was a child.  I don’t know how Mama acquired it, but I liked the color and form.

It reminds me of the sparrow that meant something to Mama and means something to me.

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How about you?

What times in your life have you needed the reminder of God’s care like that for the sparrow?

How have you felt God’s care?

 

Bright Side of the Road

Bright Side of the Road.  That’s the title of one of my favorite Van Morrison songs that I enjoy dancing to at the Sunday Night Swing Dance.  Sometimes I’m fortunate to have William as my partner.  He’s from Belfast, Ireland and remembers seeing Van Morrison performing in the local clubs before he was famous.  While the song is about a relationship, I give my own meaning to the first two lines that play over in my head: “From the dark end of the street To the bright side of the road.”

Sometimes it’s easier to stay on the dark end of the street.  We can navigate familiar paths on autopilot without having to think about where we’re going, without having to watch for the forks in the road.  That is until we’re forced to change because that old route doesn’t serve us anymore.  Something shifts within us and we want to travel in a different way.  We can be so afraid of the discomfort of a new route that we stay on that dark side of the road.  This reminds me, again, of swing dancing.

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Initially, my husband and I, along with another couple, visited the Sunday Night Swing Dance.  While the people there ‘danced around’ changing partners, we just danced with our spouses.  That night when we left, I commented that the regulars seemed like a friendly group, and I thought it would be fun to be part of that community.  But my husband and the other couple didn’t agree because they didn’t like changing partners.  For a while, I let it rest, but I kept seeing the image of the people dancing that night, how much fun they were having.  In retrospect, I felt the energy pull toward dancing that I talked about in my last post, Follow Your Energy.

Most of the times we’d gone dancing, it was because I’d initiated it by asking for lessons for a Christmas present and giving us ballroom classes for our anniversary.  While my husband was a good dancer, that wasn’t what he wanted to do.  I’d convinced myself that we were alike in that interest, but after our night at the Swing Dance, I saw that we weren’t.  I wasn’t ready to let go of my desire to be part of that community, so I approached it from a different angle.  I took classes with one of the owners of the dance company that hosted the event.

It was a risk-free way to check out the group to see if they were as amiable as they seemed.  Eventually, I got to know some people in my class and they urged me to join them on Sunday night.  I’d never been to a dance alone and felt weird going without my husband, even though I knew others came without their spouses.  But with my husband’s blessing, I drove myself to the Sunday Night Swing Dance.  At first, it was awkward, waiting for someone to ask for a dance, knowing only a few people to talk with.

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With Friends at the Halloween Dance

But I stuck with it.  I kept pushing past my uncomfortable feelings, making one new friend at a time, learning names of my partners, smiling when I made errors in following the lead.  Eventually, I was able to relax and laugh and dance just like the others that I’d envied the first time I visited.

Now, when I dance to “Bright Side of the Road,” I feel happy that I took the risk and crossed “from the dark end of the street,” refusing to stay in the shadows and learning to dance with confidence under the mirrored ball.

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Mirrored ball hanging over the Bright Side of the Road!

 

How about you?

Are there areas you’re drawn to but afraid of because they’re unfamiliar?

What would help you move out of the comfort of a familiar path through the discomfort of the unknown road in order to reach the destination you desire?