Second Chance to Know You

It was 1966 and he was home on leave for Thanksgiving.  My cousin, Danny and my Grandma Smith hold his fresh catch from her farm pond.  He’d just completed boot camp and was ready to serve on the USS Cacapon docked in Long Beach, California.  I was an eleven-year-old kid looking up to my twenty-two-year old cousin.  Now, fifty-one-years later, I have a second chance to know him.

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We meet every year on Veteran’s Day at Raven Rock State Park in Harnett County –within five miles of where our Grandma Smith had lived.  This tradition started years ago after we discovered our common interest in hiking.  Prior to that, I’d only spent time with him when he or his family would come by our home or we were at a gathering at Grandma Smith’s.  I liked his sense of humor and always found him easy to talk with– especially for a guy.  Must have been because he was a middle child, too, with an older and younger sister, like me.

Now we take the Campbell Loop trail that’ll be five miles into the hardwood forest.  The path follows a stream that flows into the Cape Fear River.  Over the years we’ve developed a familiar pattern of steady walking with stops to admire the natural wonder around us: light through the leaves, the way the water has carved the rock, fallen trees like sculpture over the stream.  Along the way, we talk everything from news of our families, to politics, to issues of faith.

Sometimes we go back to memories of our teenage years.  I love hearing his stories about a girl he liked, the male perspective I’d missed by not having brothers.  Danny listens to my account of boys I chased that lived just down the road from Raven Rock in the Boone Trail community.  I wish he’d been around then to give me advice.

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Danny’s turn to lead

We go at a comfortable pace, walking through our topics.  At the end of our hike, I’m rewarded by Danny cooking lunch for me over his hibachi.  He’d insisted on this and asked that I just bring carrots.  He’d brought fillet mignon, shrimp, tossed salad, and cold adult beverages.
We sit and wait for the coals to burn down.  I can see Grandma Smith in the way he listens, then thoughtfully responds.  Danny’s blue-gray eyes and profile remind me of her.  I’ve been fortunate to be able to get to know him in adulthood as I could not when I was a child.  It’s given me a deeper knowledge of my family and of myself.
I remember several years ago when I was planning my solo journey.  There was another cousin I wanted to know better.  I’d seen from spending time with Danny how it had enriched our lives.  I planned my trip to Michigan by way of Toledo and visited my cousin, Shirley.  (see post– Distant Cousins). Like my time with Danny, I made new discoveries that helped me to know her, and myself, better.
I’m hungry after our long walk and the grilled shrimp and steak are the perfect meal.  It’s nice to feel taken care of by my older cousin, like the big brother that I’d always wanted.
When we pack up to leave, the sun is slanting it’s golden afternoon light on the trees.  I have a feeling of fullness and satisfaction, not just from our delicious lunch but from the day that has been well- spent.  Once again we’ve deepened our bond that has carried us through the years and will into the future.  I’m grateful that I’ve had this second chance to know him.
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Me and Danny on Veteran’s Day Hike

See more photos at my Author Facebook page– Saved by Sedona
 
What about you?
Have you had someone that you’ve been able to get to know more fully at a later time in your life?
How has that experience changed you?

Looking Back Looking Forward

I study the photograph from four years ago with me standing next to a tall red rock in the Garden of the Gods Park in Colorado Springs.  It was unusual for me to take my solo journey in April, but that trip was planned around the Pikes Peak Writers’ Conference.  On that Monday afternoon, I was full of anticipation about pitching my memoir, Saved by Sedona to a literary agent.  I didn’t know that the next day I’d develop acute altitude sickness.

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I could barely make it back to the guesthouse from the Cog Railroad that had traveled up Pike’s Peak to 11,500 feet, the summit for that day due to high winds.  Finally nestled under the covers of my bed, my body ached with fever and chills.  Why does this have to happen to me now, God, I muttered.  Will I be well enough to participate in the conference?  I slept that day and most of the next, sitting up for brief periods to finish writing that had been put off until the last minute.

Early Thursday morning, I managed to drive across town to the opening session.  I was exhausted but determined to go through with the seven-minute pitch.  When I finished, I was stunned when the agent asked me to send my entire book proposal.  It seemed that everything had worked out and my goal had been reached.  That must be why I was led to come here, I thought and felt like one of the winners when I sat at the agent’s table that night at dinner.

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I floated on that feeling when I returned to North Carolina.  Two months later when dealing with my mother’s sudden illness, I received a rejection letter from the agent.  While I knew that wasn’t unusual, that disappointment came at a difficult time.  I comforted myself by saying if it hadn’t been for the April conference, I wouldn’t have been able to take my solo journey.  My summer break was spent with Mama in hospitals and rehab facilities.  I tried to rest in God’s timing for when my memoir would be published.

Three years later, when my summer journey took me to Kentucky for a two-week writer’s residency, I immersed myself in studying memoirs.  It came to me in that little house in the country, that I’d only told half of the truth.  While I’d been honest about my cancer experience, I’d not shared about being fired from my job at The Research Company.  My shame had prevented me from telling everything, from acknowledging that some days the job was harder than cancer treatment.

Looking at the red rocks in the picture takes me back to that first pilgrimage to Sedona.  There I felt God’s presence, the still small voice inside leading me, healing from my cancer and the struggles at work.  I didn’t know then that I was also being prepared for the valley ahead.

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At my recent conference of the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers’, a publisher spoke about memoirs.

“Your book’s not ready until you’re on the healing side of the journey,” she said.  She gave examples of rejected manuscripts that described the pain of the life-changing event but stopped short of the healing resolution.

Since Kentucky, I’ve gone back and slowly worked through the scenes at The Research Company — both on paper and in my heart.  I’ve grappled with what part I played in those struggles, and where I needed to let go of my anger.  Looking back over the years, I see a path that has been forged toward the healing side of the journey.  Now I’ve rewritten my memoir, this time with the whole truth.

I look forward to the future when that manuscript will be a book on the shelf.

(Additional pictures posted on Author Facebook page–  Saved by Sedona)

 

How About You?

What experiences have you had that made you feel you’d reached your goal only to be disappointed that you weren’t there yet?

Were you able to look back and see why it wasn’t the right timing for what you desired?

As you look forward, how can you use these experiences to help you rest in the timing of how things progress in your life?

On Pilgrimage with Harold Fry

One morning when I walked in my neighborhood, I made a serendipitous discovery; a Little Free Library had just been installed.  Inside the birdhouse for books, I spotted a title that caught my eye—The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.  Months later when our Edinburgh-bound train passed Berwick-upon-Tweed, I remembered how it had been the right book at the right time.

In the novel by Rachel Joyce, Harold receives a letter from a coworker from twenty years prior, Queenie Hennessy who’s in a hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed, England.  The letter and a chance encounter that follows, serve as catalysts for Harold to get up from his retirement recliner and set out on a quest.  He decides he’s going to walk the 600 miles from his home in southern England to see Queenie in the northeastern corner.  He tells her to hold on, don’t die, he’s on the way.

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On Harold’s journey, he learns from the people in his path.  He reviews his life and works through losses and regrets.  The letter triggered him to take action and do something he’d never done before.

While the book is a novel, I saw many things that rang true of going on a pilgrimage—whether to a faraway place or within your community.

Receiving the letter was the event that started a reaction in Harold.  He stepped forward and moved beyond his complacency.  When he’s suddenly invigorated by his mission he leaves everything behind.  The catalysts for me to step out of my complacency were being diagnosed with cancer and being fired from a job. I wanted to live with more intention, seeking what my heart desired instead of waiting for things to magically happen.

Along the way, Harold learns to pay attention to the small things, to be present and see for the first time.  He wasn’t able to see what was in front of him at his home until he took off on the journey.  I’ve found that going away by myself, forces me to take notice—as a means of safety as well as to savor my new experiences.

When Harold arrives at the hospice, finally reaching Queenie, things aren’t as he expected.  In the process of taking the journey, he’d changed internally and externally, and returned home to a different place.  While the pilgrimage didn’t lead to what he’d hoped, he received benefits that he hadn’t anticipated.  I’ve found that with most of my journeys —that while my strong imagination makes me think I have a good idea what I’ll encounter, it’s always different.  There are new “ah-has” that I never would have thought I’d receive on the trip.

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Train station in London

When my husband and I rode the train from London to Edinburgh, we passed Berwick-upon-Tweed.   I imagined Harold walking through the English countryside to arrive at that place.   Part of me wanted to get off the train and search for Queenie’s hospice.  Through the window, I got a glimpse of the waters of the North Sea and remembered that Harold struggled at the waterfront before going to see Queenie.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was the right book at the right time, reinforcing in fiction what I’ve found to be true.  Pilgrimage changes your life.  I was glad I could join Harold on his walk across England and anticipate what he’d find while I wondered what I would discover on my journey.

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What about you?

Have you experienced a serendipitous discovery in a familiar place?

How did that treasure impact your life?

How have your eyes been opened from that experience?

Childhood Dreams

The dream of riding a horse in the wide-open West had been with me since I was a girl.  Those Saturday morning shows like Roy Rogers spurred my interest, making me want to feel that freedom from a saddle.  When my Aunt Polly told me stories of visiting the Tetons, my dream broadened to riding horseback there.  It was time to make that a reality.

I scheduled my solo journey to Wyoming.  I’d learned from cancer that you should live with intention, not wasting the time you have by postponing your heart’s desires.  Each trip I completed gave me more confidence in boldly stepping forward and trying new things.  I’d hiked a mountain alone and stayed with strangers in hostels.  Surely I could ride a horse again– even though it had been at least thirty years.

I planned my stay at Colter Bay in the Grand Teton National Park.  They offered riding trails led by experienced wranglers.  Their website stated all levels of riders could participate.  I assumed they’d give me a gentle horse, an old gray mare for a middle-aged woman.  But instead, they assigned me to Tequila.

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Great, I thought, a horse that can make you crazy.

“She’s good, but sometimes she wants to lead the pack,” the college-age wrangler told me.  “I’ll ride behind you to help you keep her in line.”

I felt my first flutter of panic, climbing up into the saddle on the very tall horse.  I couldn’t believe how high up it felt once I was seated– my height added to Tequila’s.  We practiced how to use the reigns and heard instructions on going up and downhill.

We followed the lead wrangler, starting out through a forest where the ground was level.  About the time I felt myself relaxing, Tequila jerked to the side to move in front of the horse in front of us.   I clung to the saddle horn for dear life as the wrangler came around from behind and expertly edge Tequila back into position.

The trail started downhill and the lead wrangler turned to face us.  “Remember to sit back and keep your toes facing the sky,” the wrangler told our group of nine.

I did what she said but felt like I was going to go over the top of the horse.  Level ground was much better!

Finally, it was flat again as we entered a grassy meadow with wildflowers: red Indian Paintbrush, yellow Balsamroot, and blue lupines.  We stopped in front of Jenny Lake that was as smooth as glass and the stunning mountains were mirrored in the water, a double beauty to behold.  We sat on our horses and drank in the splendor.

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I felt like I’d arrived to the dream of my childhood.  That place really existed and now as an adult, I was getting to discover it.  Taking a breath of the clean, evergreen-scented air, I felt thankful that I’d made it to the Tetons.  The journey I’d started in my imagination as a child had now been achieved.  This feeling of accomplishment, of completion, was worth all the effort it took to get here, and worth conquering my fear of riding a horse, a very tall horse.

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How about you?

Is there a place you’ve dreamed of but never made it there?

Is there an activity you’ve wanted to do but have been afraid to try?

How could you make your dreams become realities?

 

Fog Gets in Your Eyes

Enjoy the View  That’s what the sign said that was just a few feet from the overlook of Lake Michigan at Sleeping Bear Dunes.  But the area was a total whiteout, wrapped in dense fog, hiding my view of the broad expanse of dunes and water.  I could hear the faint sound of distant waves lapping at the shore below.  I felt like a fool.

How had I driven over nine-hundred miles, to what had been described as the “most spectacular site in Michigan,” to be blocked by these low-lying clouds?  Why hadn’t I checked weather conditions?  When I set out on my solo journey, I’d payed close attention to my map but never consulted a weather forecast.

I stood in the fog and felt my frustration, beaten down, thinking all had been lost since I had to leave for home the next day.  I really wanted to see the lake to know if the water was as blue-green as it appeared in pictures.  Nothing drew me like turquoise water and to think I could come this close, so far without realizing my goal, was hard to accept.

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Settle down, advised that still small voice of God within me.  Just wait a while and you’ll figure out what to do.  How many times had I heard that counsel in my life –always having to reign in my impatience and my tendency to blame myself, my first response.

I waited in a grove of trees that appeared dreamlike, shrouded in white.  After a while, seeing no change, I drove back to the visitor center.  The ranger said the front that had moved in wasn’t expected, a combination of weather factors that were infrequent in July.

“Could be better by tomorrow,”  he said, and gave me the phone number for the park weather information and suggestions for re-routing my trip from the dunes.

I drove back to my hotel in Traverse City.  I watched the weather channel and called the park number, determined to be on top of things this time.  But later, tired of being in my room and my obsession to correct my mistake, I decided to enjoy the present and let go of what I couldn’t control.  I spent the evening at a waterfront park, walking among the beautiful flowers and talking with my sons and husband.

The next morning on my return to the dunes, I stopped at a farmer’s market and purchased fresh cherries and a loaf of homemade sourdough bread.  When I drove into the park, I held my breath, watching for fog.  I climbed the steps to the observation platform.

“Oh my goodness!” The view was stunning.  The dazzling blue-green expanse stretched as far as I could see.  The dunes were much taller than I expected – thinking they would be like Jockey’s Ridge on the Carolina coast.

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What a Difference a Day Made

I couldn’t hear the water as I had the day before, in what had seemed like a small space.  How the fog had distorted my perception.  All of that was out there and I couldn’t see it; momentary conditions that blocked a grand view.

How many times have I missed things that were right in front of me, I wondered; temporary situations frustrating me and giving up without seeing things through.

I absorbed the tranquility of the tropical-appearing water and felt the wonder of that place.  When I could no longer ignore the time, I drove south to Point Betsie Lighthouse.

Nestled among the sea oats, I pulled out my peanut butter to spread on the sourdough bread to eat along with the cherries.  What a delicious lunch in the mid-day sun, watching the white caps.  I wouldn’t have come to this spot if hadn’t been for my detour.  Now I could return to North Carolina with the memory of dazzling Lake Michigan and the importance of waiting for the fog to clear.

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What about you?

Have you ever felt that your error made you miss an important opportunity?

How did you handle your frustration with yourself?

How do you settle into the present rather than worrying about tomorrow?

Sinners and Saints

Pilgrims have traveled to Iona, Scotland for centuries to the Abbey founded by Saint Columba.  But before he was seen as a saint, he was recognized as a sinner for leading his Irish clan in a battle where three thousand died.  He is every man and every woman; all of us with our shadow side that our public self tries to hide.  I think of this as Halloween is followed by All Saints’ Day.

Columba got into problems partly because of his love for books.  He made a copy of St. Jerome’s Psalter that had been brought to Ireland by a man named Finnian.  This was back in the day when there were no printing presses and books had to be reproduced by hand– painstaking work resulting in a precious copy.  Columba thought the book was his, but a king ruled against him and so Columba had to give the copy he’d made to Finnian.  But it didn’t end there.  Columba harbored a grudge at that injustice.  Later, when a man who’d taken sanctuary with Columba was killed by the king, war broke out.  Columba led and won the battle in which three thousand died.  He got his Psalter back.

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Eventually, Columba’s grief over what he’d done led him to a self-inflicted punishment, one most severe for a Celt: he banished himself from Ireland.  On Iona, he established a monastery that was a classic center of learning, where monks came from near and far.  Iona’s scholars copied thousands of books– just like Columba had copied that Psalter.  He grew from being a gruff and rigid young man to a mellow and venerated Saint.

I think about the times in my life where God has humbled me and I finally recognize my shadow side.  Most of the time I’ve pushed away my weaknesses by defending myself from any hint of culpability, never letting accusations permeate my well-developed armor.  But God works from the inside, and when that gentle voice with the clear message comes, I recognize it as truth.  Like Columba, I hang on to hurts and injustices.  One of the hardest for me to let go of was my anger at The Research Company.

All I could see was how wrong they were for the way they’d treated me, what seemed almost cruel since, at the same time, I was going through cancer.  Others saw the problems with The Research Company and knew they’d treated me in an unprofessional and damaging way.  They supported me and believed I was right.  But what I realized over time that couldn’t be justified, was the hate I’d hidden in my heart against them.  It became an obsessive thing, wondering what was happening to them after they forced me out, hoping they were having problems– individually and as a company.

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For years I held on to my anger at The Research Company

At times, I attempted to follow the Biblical directive; pray for your enemies.  But it was half-hearted and usually ended with asking for them to see how wrong they were and how right I’d been.  Years later, when I finally stood back and looked at the situation without my harsh judgements, I let go of that anger.  I saw how that hate had kept me from joy.  My harbored injustice had not resulted in a battle that killed three thousand.  But I didn’t know what might have been accomplished if I’d let go of it sooner, more concerned with grace than with being right.

I think of the legacy left by Saint Columba and how lives, including mine, have been enriched at that place of his exile.  Beauty came out of the ashes he left behind on a battlefield in Ireland.  For me, beauty has come from the ashes left behind at The Research Company, just one stop on my journey through life.

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How About You?

How have you harbored injustices that you’ve experience in your life?

What has resulted from hanging on to them?

How have you resolved those feelings of injustice?  If you haven’t, what steps could you take towards that?

Reference:

Bert Ghezzi, Voices of the Saints: A Year of Readings (New York: Doubleday, 2000), 150 – 151. 

 

Flow of Life

It’s been sixteen years since I was told that day would be my last at The Research Company.  Devastated, angry, and relieved to be free of them, I stepped forward onto an uncertain path. I was surprised my course returned me to school nursing.  When I retired from that position last March, I had no idea that my path would continue to a part-time job as the nurse for a psychiatric research study– this time for real.

The Research Company had recruited me to work on clinical trials with a psychiatrist they said would be joining the staff.  But that never happened.  Instead, I felt trapped, doing studies that weren’t remotely related to mental health.

Ironic that eighteen years after I was hired by that toxic company for studies that never materialized, I’m now hired to work part-time with a study led by a renown psychiatrist.  I walk into the office that is loft-like with a bay of desks, one that is mine for eight hours each week.  I think back to how my life has unfolded.

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In early January, our life coaching alumni group participated in a visioning exercise.  We were to focus on our coaching practice in the new year, imagining a butterfly leading us to our goal.  I could see a beautiful monarch in flight, like those that symbolize the healing care of lymphatic massage.  In my mind’s eye, the butterfly becomes supersized and picks me up at my middle school and carries me to a place I can’t see.  All I know is that I’d been lifted through no effort of my own.

Weeks later, with less than two months until retirement, I talked with my friend, Jennifer.  Feeling internal pressure to have the next chapter in place, I shared my frustration that I wasn’t further along with establishing my coaching and writing businesses.

“I hope you can let your retirement flow, organically,” she said.  “You’ve worked hard and it’s time to stop striving.”

I appreciated her wisdom.  She’d been retired for a couple of years and had experience with that chapter of life.  I thought about her word, organic and was reminded of being carried by the butterfly.

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Jennifer’s wisdom and the butterfly came to me often over the weeks before and after my last day at the school.  Both helped me relax about what would happen next.  Things did flow as my writing expanded to meet deadlines, and I  postponed working on my coaching business.

Over the first months of retirement, my energy was restored.  I didn’t realize how deeply tired I’d been.  Gradually, my interest increased for working with people in a meaningful way, using my skills as a nurse to balance the solitary quiet of writing.  About that time, a former co-worker had called and asked if I’d be interested in the research job.  No striving to find that position, just a gift that flowed into my hands, organically.

While The Research Company hadn’t worked out, my experience there taught me how to work with studies.  Now, I could use those skills for psychiatric research that was part-time and flexible, while I gradually developed a coaching practice– just enough meaningful work.

I imagine that monarch flying into my new office and landing on the lamp at my desk, the brilliant colors of the monarch standing out against the green shade.  This is where that path has led me, flowing organically to the next stop on my way.

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How About You?

Have you ever come back to a place in your life that you didn’t expect to return to?

How was the experience the second time around?

In what ways have you experienced flow in a time of transition?

 

 

Then Sings My Soul

I lost myself in our conversation, feeling it was more important to be present in that moment than to be on time for the service.  When I finally pushed open the Iona chapel door, I heard the piano playing, the congregants singing a song that was familiar from another place.  Tears splashed my eyes as I settled into the row and reached for a hymnal.  The last time I heard, How Great Thou Art, was in Asbury Methodist Church in rural Chatham county at the funeral of my mother-in-law.

That song had a strong history in my husband, David’s family.  I knew when he was young he’d play their piano for his father, “D.B.” to sing his favorite, How Great Thou Art, in his bass voice.  We knew he’d want that song at his funeral and so it was sung by a woman from their congregation.  Years later, when my mother-in-law, Mary Dell’s health was failing, she interrupted a lunch conversation and announced, “When I have mine, I want a man to sing.”   We realized she’d been planning her funeral.  Had she disliked the woman’s voice that sung at D.B.’s?  Maybe she just associated that song with the memory of his deep voice.  We honored her request, as a young man sang on that chilly March day in the intimacy of the small brick church in central North Carolina.

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Now, hearing that song played by a young Iona volunteer from Germany, sung by an international congregation, in the amazing acoustics of the stone chapel, I listen to the words as if they are a new discovery.  I have felt God’s greatness in the way my pilgrimage to Iona has unfolded; the desire to see the Hebrides, planted seven-years-ago by a Scottish man in Martha’s Vineyard; learning about Iona through my Duke Chapel presentation on making travel sacred; gifts of time and money for my trip when I retired from school nursing.  There had been ‘signs’ along the way that I should go to that last week for the year at the Abbey, the one with the theme that spoke to my heart, “The Pilgrimage of Life.”

I had seen more of the “worlds Thy hands have made” in my journey to Iona by way of Paris and London and Edinburgh, up into the Scottish Highlands, and on to that windswept island of Iona.  We talked about Cosmic God in our sessions and the expanse of God that is beyond words and our human understanding.  I’d experienced the worlds of my new friends at Iona, their lives and the way God was moving in them.  Singing that song in such a historic and sacred place, made me feel both tiny in the midst of such grandeur and deeply loved by the Creator.

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I’d felt led by the ‘still small voice of God’ to be myself, to be present so I could absorb everything, and to be patient with my week of living in a community.  By letting go of my fears, my self-consciousness, I was available to receive the blessings of Iona.  When we sang the chorus, “Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee,” I felt my soul was free.

Looking up to the light beaming through the windows of the chapel, thinking of the island vistas of sheep grazing and the white caps of Iona sound, feeling the ever-present wind on my face, my soul did sing.  It was a song of gratitude and praise that God had brought me to this place.  It’s the same song that echoes over the years at Asbury Church in the voices of our ancestors.

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What about You?

Have you found ways to let go so your soul can sing?

What are the words of your song?

What message have you received from the ‘still small voice of God’ that helps in letting go?

A Day in the Highlands

I wanted my husband, David, to hurry up which was difficult with his knee injury, making his way with a crutch.  I’d scheduled a twelve-hour trip into the Scottish Highlands.  The Rabbie’s Tour Company would pull out at 8:00 sharp.  Regardless, I needed to be quiet and patient.  David was moving as best he could.  I felt relieved when we finally made it to the bus, the next-to-the-last passengers.

Our driver and guide, Nick, was welcoming and had an easy manner.  He gave us the itinerary for the day and addressed our immediate concerns; the frequency of bathroom stops and when we’d have lunch.  I’d wanted to see the Highlands since watching Outlander and other shows filmed there.   After reading about the Clearances, I wondered if our ancestors had been forced from that region.  I hoped David would be as interested since he would spend the day in the confined space of the bus.

Two other Rabbie’s tour groups were leaving at the same time.  Their drivers wore kilts while Nick had on pants.  One of the folks on our bus asked him why he didn’t wear a kilt.

“I ride my bike to work,” he said, and with a slight grin, he continued.  “Can’t have that wind up under a kilt.  Scottish men just wear the kilt.”

We laughed and enjoyed watching the busy city streets change to the countryside as he drove us out of Edinburgh.  After riding for over an hour, we stopped in a village with a restaurant where we could buy food to carry on the boat at Loch Ness.

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“You need to try their pies with haggis,” Nick suggested.  “That way you’ll get a real taste of Scotland.”

I had spent all my time making reservations and had no clue about haggis.  But when in Scotland, I needed to do as the Scottish do.  The small pies were about the size of single chicken pot pies in the States.  We’d have a carb-rich lunch with our haggis pies, tarts, and a small bag of shortbread cookies.

Nick proved to be a natural storyteller.  He shared the tales of Sir William Wallace and others, often inserting a “However” when the story turned and the hero’s lesser known, dark side was revealed.  He’d play Scottish music, weaving story, song, and narration throughout the day.   The clouds gave way to drizzle as we drove into Glencoe.  Fog shrouded that valley of destruction. Nick said that it was more often like this than not in the Highlands, sunny days a rarity.

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Area of the massacre of Glencoe

We walked around with David carefully picking his way on the slippery surfaces and me standing watch close by.  I imagined the hills dressed in heather– as they would have been the month before, and in a blanket of snow, as they’d be in a couple of months.

Soon we reached Loch Ness where we took our lunch break.  We ate our haggis pies as we listened to the stories of Nessie sitings and the boat ventured out into the deep, seven-hundred-foot waters.

The pies were tasty.  It was not until I returned from our trip that I’d learn that haggis was a pudding containing sheep’s pluck which included heart, liver, and lungs that was mixed with fillers and spices.  Glad I didn’t know what I was eating!

The rain came down as the sun moved lower in the sky and we headed back toward Edinburgh.  I realized that our tour had been the perfect way to spend the day, even with David on a crutch.  By arriving almost last to the bus, he’d gotten the best possible seat for stretching out his leg.  If we had rushed like I felt inclined to do, we would have been cramped in the back of the bus.

I had realized my dream of visiting those Highlands.  My fears of our trip being ruined when David injured his leg had not been the case.  My prayers for our trip had been answered.

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Foggy day in the Highlands

 

What about you?

Have you had a time when you chose to allow things to happen rather than to push?

How did the outcome unfold?

What did you glean from that experience?

Bringing Home the Boon

It’s been over two weeks since I returned from my pilgrimage to Iona.  I’ve often thought of the people from our community at the Abbey, remembering their faces and snippets of conversations.  I can feel the chill of that early morning air and remember the fierce wind that was sometimes mixed with rain.  When I take morning walks in my neighborhood, I’m transported to the single lane road across the island, reminded how few cars there were compared to home.  Now I consider the ‘boon’ or blessings of my journey.

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I was a bit anxious about joining a group of strangers from around the world, living in close quarters for a week.  Last year when I took my solo journey to Artcroft in Kentucky, I thought I was going to live in a community of artists.  Instead of sharing with them in farm chores and kitchen duties, I stayed there alone in the quiet of rural Kentucky.

At first, I was disappointed, wondering how I’d fill that empty space, by myself for fourteen days.  Gradually, God showed me how to live into that stillness and multiplied my efforts at writing and studying the craft of memoir.  The rhythm of my day began to match that of my surroundings.  I learned to be present in a house without the sounds of television or another human voice.  My delights were hearing birdsong, taking long walks down the dirt road lined with lavender chicory blooms and Queen Anne’s lace, watching for the rabbit at the edge of the lawn.  During my two weeks, I ate only one meal in the company of others.  What joy to share at the table of the Artcroft founder and his wife, a most welcomed breakfast fellowship over eggs Benedict.

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My two-week home at Artcroft in Kentucky

This year, the bustling community life at Iona challenged me in a different way.  Most of my time was spent with others; participating in sessions and services, meal duties, and household chores.  There were many conversations at varying degrees of depth.  We talked while working, casually chatted in front of the fire, and shared one-to-one over tea and oatcakesLiving in community highlighted both my strengths and weaknesses—in a way that being alone couldn’t do.

For me, it was easy to start conversations and listen to the others, but sometimes I tired of interactions that went too long.  There were days I felt drained from interacting with so many people.  Over the past few years, it’s been pointed out to me that I’m one who listens deeply and gives all, part of my sensitive nature and my profession as a nurse.  Sometimes it’s difficult to balance my extroverted self with my introverted self.  While the extrovert is friendly and talkative, the introvert wants to run to the quiet of time alone.

The group discussions challenged the narrowness of being in my own head.   They helped me to see the world from the vantage point of others, God’s reach broader than my own.  I came away feeling that I need to spend more time in community, to be more involved in my home congregation of faith.  But, that needs to be balanced with a healthy amount of time alone.

Walking down that dirt road in Kentucky, I was struck by the proliferation of the thorny thistle and used gardening gloves to cut them for a bouquet.  The ones I saw in Iona were smaller.  That hardy plant is the floral emblem of Scotland and a reminder of the fierce Scots.  I loved the thistle’s form and beautiful purple flower that was in juxtaposition to the thorns.

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Now, I see the thistle as a symbol that binds my two journeys together; the solitude of Artcroft and the community of Iona.  Both sides need to be balanced in order for me to be whole, a reminder that is some of the boon that I bring home.

What about you?

How have you learned to balance the need to be with others and the need to be alone?

What are indicators that your life is out of balance?

What areas do you need to invest more time in to adjust the balance?