Happy 100th

This is the 100th post since I started my blog with WordPress almost a year ago. When I published the first entry on May 31, 2017, I wasn’t looking ahead at the hours of work involved when I made the commitment to posting twice a week. I had no clue how much effort it would take to create each entry and find the accompanying images– didn’t figure ahead that with 52 weeks in a year that would be 104 posts!  I just jumped in and have learned by doing– the method that’s best for me.

I guess no matter what you do 100 times, you probably get better at it– or at least it’s more familiar.  It helped to make a commitment to regularly producing my posts, the twice-weekly deadlines forcing a new discipline in my writing.  Once I made the announcement that I would publish them on Wednesdays and Sundays, I had to stick with my decision.

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That was a real challenge when I took last year’s journey.  In Paris, I had problems with my computer and had to use the hotel’s.  The keyboard was different in France, and I struggled with finding the right key– pecking out a word at the time, barely able to complete that post before we had to leave for the train station.

On Iona, the wifi was difficult to access from the Abbey and I had to walk down the road to a hotel lounge.  Instead of getting to explore the island in our free time, I ordered a pot of tea and hurried to write my post before I had to be back for my evening kitchen duty.  But some of that was a labor of love because I wanted to tell you in real time what I was experiencing so you could be with me on that journey.  There were pictures of the stunning beauty of the island that I couldn’t wait to share.

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The shores of Iona in the Inner Hebrides, Scotland

One of the things I’ve had to let go of in blogging is my perfectionism. At first, I was afraid to make a post without having my writing group take a look. I’m not the best at grammar or punctuation, and I often miss spelling errors. But I couldn’t wait for others and I couldn’t afford an editor. I would do my best and hope that what I have to say, and my desire to inspire and encourage would outweigh my errors. You’ve been gracious as readers to overlook those flaws.

Many of my posts have been from portions of my memoir that is the story of my simultaneous struggle with a toxic job and cancer that’s interrupted by a serendipitous trip to Sedona. That journey-turned-pilgrimage was life-changing and became a template for the six that follow in my memoir and the seven that will be covered in the sequel.  Because I’m working on publishing my book, I need more time for that project.

So, now that I’m fully aware of how much time goes into each post, I need to cut back to a weekly production that will be on Saturdays. I appreciate you all for being supportive readers and will let you know when my memoir’s available.

At times posting twice a week has been easy, other times it’s been hard, but always it’s been rewarding when I hear from you that what I’ve said has resonated with your life. It’s brought me joy when I hear that my words have inspired or encouraged you.

Thanks to everyone for your support for my 100 blog posts.  I’ll talk with you again next Saturday.

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What about you?

What new challenge do you need to jump into?

If you have done that in the past, what did you learn after a significant amount of time about the process and the product of that challenge?

 

Saying Goodbye to the Magnolia Tree

The highway department has made the decision they’re going to widen Hwy 42, the road in front of Mama’s house, from a two-lane to a divided four-lane.  For years we’ve wondered when that would happen.  Even when I was a girl and we lived in Daddy’s homeplace that was built in 1880, we knew it wouldn’t pay to renovate that house that was situated too near the road that had once been dirt.

So when I was in eighth grade, that old two-story farmhouse was cut in two sections and moved back on our farm to reveal the new brick ranch that had been constructed behind it.  While our expansive lawn was new, the magnolia tree near the road was old and had most likely been planted by my grandmother.  Now, that tree is in the path of the road widening project and will be destroyed for the sake of progress.

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This is a small thing to complain about compared to what some people will give up, including those families with loved ones buried in the Shallow Well Church cemetery.  The road project will require 200 of the 2200 graves to be moved.  Fortunate for us, this will not impact our family’s sites that are just out of the reach of the expansion, but others will experience the sacred ground of a family member’s resting place being disrupted.  We all wonder if this highway project is as necessary as they claim, and some also wonder about the politics of which roads are widened and who are the ones that really benefit.

But for now, my concern is with losing that magnolia that has been part of my life since my earliest memories.  It was the backdrop for family pictures when we were dressed in church clothes and Mama took the photos using her Brownie camera.  At Christmas, we’d gather branches and use the shiny green leaves to decorate our mantle.  For me, the lemony smell of the blossoms will always be June in the South.  The large white blooms were used around the punch bowl for refreshments that were served after my high school graduation.

When my sons were little, they played with their cousins under that huge tree in Grandma Rosser’s yard.  Several of her seven grandchildren would climb up in the tree while the others made a playhouse underneath, mostly hidden from the view of their parents.

The magnolia was more than a tree.  It was a place.

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When I heard the highway department had marked our yard with stakes to show the road boundaries, I took my iPhone and made pictures.  I thought about how Daddy’s mother had probably planted that tree and had marked time by how much it had grown; “I remember when we planted that tree back when  . . .” and she would call up an event that happened around that time.  There were some trees that were even larger than the magnolia– like the walnut and pecans.  But they had the practical function of providing nut meats for the family and shade to the house before air conditioning.

The magnolia was the crowning glory of that yard with its purpose to delight with year-round color, intoxicating fragrance, and symbol of Southern beauty and belonging.  I’ll miss that tree and all the years of joy it brought to our family.

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Mama’s once expansive lawn with markers for the road boundary

How about you?

What changes have you experienced that were forced on you and altered or took away something you valued?

How did you handle your loss?

Did you have the opportunity to say “Goodbye”?

 

 

 

 

 

My Mother, My Teacher

My mother has been a great teacher over the years.  Some of her lessons were intentional, and some were unintentional.

She was always big on safety, long before she went back to school in her mid-fifties to be a licensed practical nurse.  We would hear cautions about waiting at least an hour after eating to swim, being careful when cooking to keep from getting burned, and making sure our fingers were away from the needle when using her Singer sewing machine—to name a few.  Years later when I started taking solo journeys, thinking she’d be proud of my wanderlust, she’d say, “I don’t like you traveling by yourself.  It’s just not safe for a woman.”

What she would see as sharing life lessons were renamed “sermons” by my older sister, who even went to the point of numbering them, mostly out of earshot of Mama, saying “Sermon No. 101” when Mama would start in on one of her themes of being grateful, or thoughtful, or working hard.  Once we picked up on that ‘preachy’ tone of voice I think we must have tuned out Mama’s words, but we couldn’t tune out her actions.

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Back in the Day of Mama Sermons

She was tireless in the way she lived all those sermons, never fussy about what she had because it was always plenty, thinking of the welfare of others with little regard for her own, working until late in the night and up early in the morning to do the endless chores of her job and our farm.  Her kindnesses have continued even with her advancing dementia, smiling often and reaching out to touch a fellow resident’s arm in greeting when I push her in her wheelchair down the hallways of Parkview.

But Mama also taught me in ways that she didn’t intend—like the problem with avoiding conflict.  She was raised to never say anything unkind and for her that sometimes meant not acknowledging the problems that were before you.  If there was a situation that was going on in our extended family or community, Mama would never speak about it.  I think it would have helped to know some of that when I was growing up so I would have been prepared for that as an adult.

How surprised I was when I married my husband and found his family didn’t approach life that way.  They’d talk openly about how things in their extended family or with their neighbors weren’t ideal.

Likewise, my mother-in-law, Mary Dell, would say if she was having problems with one of her friends, one of the ‘girls’ that had worked with her at the telephone office.  They’d been operators for many years and were friends outside of work, maintaining their close relationships into retirement.  Mary Dell didn’t hesitate to say if she was mad at her friend for saying or doing something that she didn’t like.  Sometimes they’d part ways for a while then makeup and go back to their usual enjoyment of going out to lunch and then shopping in thrift stores. My mother-in-law taught me that you could acknowledge disagreement and then get beyond it.  You didn’t have to ignore the less-than-perfect truth.

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(L to R) Mama, my son, Brooks, my mother-in-law, Mary Dell

I think about how I’ve taught my two sons things I intended and those I didn’t.  I’ve apologized to them for all I couldn’t be as a mother—and like other mothers, I did the best I could at that point in my life.  And what was always true, was how completely I loved them.

Now our family has a new generation with the birth of my grandson eleven days ago.  My daughter-in-law, Emily is finding her way as a new mother, doing the best she can for that little boy she loves more than she knew was possible.

And hopefully, over these generations, we’ll see that mothers love deeply and do the best they can. There is grace provided that makes what we learned, both intentional and unintentional, sufficient to guide us through our lives and honor the mothers that did their best.

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My new grandson

How about you?

What are some of the intentional lessons that your mother taught you?

What are some of the unintentional things you learned from her?

 

3 Things I Learned from Cancer

Now that I’ve been a breast cancer survivor for almost eighteen years, I think back on the three things I learned from going through treatment.  It occurs to me that what I learned from cancer can be applied to other areas of life—even to becoming a parent, like my son and daughter-in-law did just one week ago.  While these are very different in some ways, the things I learned from cancer can be generalized.  I’m not an expert, I’m just sharing my perspective from my personal experience.

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Walking with my friend and fellow survivor, Mary

When you hear the oncologist say, “You have cancer,” it’s shocking and you’re paralyzed with fear. The immediate question is, “Am I going to live?”  After you hear about the type of cancer you have (mine was triple negative) the team maps out your options.  For me, it was eight months of treatment including surgery, chemo, and radiation.  While it’s helpful to get the big picture when you’re starting out, I found it overwhelming to look too far ahead.  So the first thing cancer taught me was

#1– DON’T LOOK TOO FAR AHEAD

 Just focus on the next few steps along the path.  For me, I relied on prayer, asking God to help me with the present moment, giving me the courage for whatever I was going through in that phase of treatment.  When you’re a new parent, it helps to do the same thing.  Sometimes you need strength to get through another night of broken sleep, another fussy evening with colic.  You’d be overwhelmed if you looked ahead and thought about how many nights or evenings you could have like that.

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My son, Brooks– a new father.

When I heard I had cancer, my immediate response was to assume the outcome for me would be like one of my high school classmates who’d been diagnosed a few years before.  Even though I’m a nurse, I didn’t work in oncology and I had very little knowledge of breast cancer, so I latched on to the most recent example I had from another woman.  But I didn’t know anything about her subtype of breast cancer, her specific biochemistry, family history, her body’s unique response to treatment.  My outcome was very different from hers.  So, the second thing cancer taught me was

#2 DON’T ASSUME YOUR EXPERIENCE WILL BE THE SAME AS ANOTHER PERSON’S

That’s also true for parenting.  Just because your friends had a difficult time during a phase of raising their child, doesn’t mean it’ll be the same for you.  Another phase will challenge you more because of your child’s unique personality, your perspective as a parent, other things going on in your family life at the time.  When we focus on the moment and don’t compare our experience, whether it’s with an illness or the challenges of parenting, we have what we need to make it through.

Sometimes it’s tempting for me to make broad assumptions, probably to make things seem more simple than they are in life.  With cancer treatment, I knew I had six rounds of chemo and to make that process seem more familiar, I assumed each treatment would affect me the same: the level of nausea, discomfort with the transfusion, feeling foggy afterward.  But the days were varied and sometimes there were unexpected blessings dropped into my life that distracted me from whatever I was experiencing and provided beauty and relief.  So the third thing cancer taught me was

#3 DON’T ASSUME EVERY DAY WILL BE THE SAME

As a parent, the same kinds of mercies show up: extra help when you don’t think you have the energy you need, your child moving forward to that next developmental step when you thought you were stuck, that first intentional smile when you’re at a point of exhaustion.  The days change, each with its own up and down pattern that forms a beautiful whole.

Whatever your challenge, I hope you’ll find some encouragement in these words and you’ll discover what your current phase of life has to teach you.

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How about You?

What are the lessons you learned going through a big change in your life?

How can you share your experience with others?

 

 

 

 

Sweet Anticipation

The text came last September when I was staying in a hotel at the Edinburgh Airport.  Since my husband had returned home the week before when I took my pilgrimage to Iona, I was in the room alone.  The text included the picture of the sonogram of our first grandchild, and that was when I learned we were having a boy.  I cheered and clapped my hands, and shouted, “We’re having a grandson!”  Tears streamed down my face as I studied the sonogram and listened to the beat of his heart, over-and-over again, letting the joy of that moment sink in.

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I wondered what he would look like, if he’d favor our son, Brooks or look more like my daughter-in-law, Emily.  What would his personality be like—what blend of family characteristics mixed with his own unique traits?  It would be so interesting to watch him unfold.

Months before, I had assigned a ‘Prayin’ Tree’ (see post-Jan. 6, ’18 ) to Brooks and Emily, and I saw it as a Family Tree—knowing they were ready to start their own new branch.  I chose a large river birch with a wide expansive canopy that was in the yard of one of our neighbors.  Every time I walked past it I prayed for our baby.  Once I found out we were having a little boy, I imagined him climbing the tree.  Later, I’d find out the couple in that house where the river birch grew was wanting to have a baby, and now they are pregnant.  Maybe my prayers helped them, too!

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Over the months of anticipating our grandson, we’ve had those moments of concern when we waited for test results—for Emily and for the baby.   Now there’s so much information these pregnant couples deal with that weren’t routine 33 years ago when I was pregnant with Brooks.  They researched car seats and strollers and the endless number of products on the market.  They’ve had baby showers and been honored by family, friends, and coworkers.

All these months of build-up to the birth of this little boy and the call finally came this past Tuesday at 5:00 a.m.  They were headed to the hospital.  It seemed real and surreal at the same time, quickly getting ready and heading out for the five-hour drive.  At first, I was anxious that we wouldn’t be there at the time of his birth.  But I shouldn’t have worried, because it was a very long labor.  After being together in the birthing room, trying to encourage Emily along, distract her from her pain, we moved to the waiting room and took breaks to the hospital cafeteria.  Since I’d left my computer and writing paper in the car, I opted for working on a blog for Wednesday on brown paper napkins.  It became evident that I would not get that blog out that day because I just could not focus on anything but our baby.

Finally, at 8:44 on Wednesday morning, May 2cnd, almost twenty-eight hours after the call, our little boy who we’d anxiously anticipated for so many months, arrived.  What joy to hold him in my arms and see the face of the grandson I’d only dreamed about and caught a glimpse of in a sonogram.  And what a deep sense of gratitude to see my son holding his son and looking at him with such love, seeing his son’s sweet face, a moment I’d dreamed of.

All the months of anticipation had led to that sweet moment.  A new chapter of life is opening and I feel the fullness of God’s blessings and thanksgiving that mother and baby are fine and that I’m a grandparent, “Grammy” they’ll call me until he figures out what he chooses to call his grandmother.  And whatever will be fine with me.

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How about You?

What is it you’re anticipating in your life?

How has or will life change for you when what you’ve anticipated finally arrives?

 

 

Everybody has a Story

The student had become a frequent-flyer in my school nurse’s office.  I knew her pattern of dropping in mid-day when she had a class where she struggled.  At first, I struggled with being patient with her because she stuttered.  It was hard for her to get out a simple sentence about wanting pain medicine for her headache.  After many trips to see me, I could guess what she was asking for, and it would have been easy to supply the words so she could just nod her head.  But I needed to listen to her and deal with my issues of impatience.  She needed her voice heard.

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stock photo by Tirachard Kumtanom

Since she came in so often, I had plenty of chances to work on listening.  In time, I saw there were situations when the stutter wasn’t as pronounced and she talked more freely, sharing how much she loved music, writing songs.  Eventually, I relaxed into the conversation, knowing it would unfold slowly and that was okay.

I’ve had a similar experience in learning to listen to Mama.  With her decline over the years with dementia, she can’t enjoy conversation like she used to.  She was known for being a talker and often frustrated Daddy when she was one of the last to leave after church because she was talking with her friends.  He would be waiting in the car, wanting to get home to eat the Sunday dinner she’d prepared.  Even when Mama was at home with just her family, she enjoyed telling us stories. She most loved the tales of her and her cousin, Yvonne, their adventures in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania as nineteen-year-olds training for civil service jobs during World War II.

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(L to R) Yvonne and Mama

Now, we have days when Mama can put a few words together to make a simple sentence, or she starts as if she’s going to tell you something and she just stops.  She might say, “And they said. . .”  “I guess . . .” and then the rest of her words aren’t fully formed, just sounds that are like something has chewed up the rest of that thought.  What is more intact is her nonverbal communication, especially the way she raises her eyebrows or has a concerned expression, or furrows her brow with confusion, or smiles.  She’ll say something that’s not understandable, then smile like she’s said something humorous.

What I’ve come to realize is that no matter how difficult it is to understand what she’s trying to say, she wants to be listened to just like she did years ago in the churchyard. She feels, in as much as we have any understanding of what she thinks, that she has something to say and she still needs to be listened to.  I need to be alert to her tone of voice, her facial expressions, and the occasional clear words to piece the story together.

I understand wanting to be heard—after all, I’m a writer and telling stories gives me great joy.  At times, I’ve been so intent on telling my story, my clever rendition of an anecdote, that I haven’t listened to others, wanting to jump in and get my turn.  I apologize to those of you to whom I’ve done that, thinking my story was more important than yours.  It’s not.  Because everybody has a story that they need to tell, and all of us need others to really listen.  And that goes for middle school stutterers and old people with failing memories and half-formed sentences.

The need for our stories to be heard is universal, and listening is the one true gift we can give to one another.  Whether in our everyday lives with our families or the people we work with, or our extraordinary days of being on a journey and encountering a stranger, we will make the world a better place by listening to each other’s stories.  Sometimes we’ll need to wait patiently for them to unfold.

IMG_0143How about You?

How could you better listen to the stories of other people?

How can you let others’ know that you need for them to hear your story?

 

The Stranger on the Bus

We stood at the West Tisbury shuttle bus stop on a Saturday afternoon in Martha’s Vineyard.  I’d been experiencing that island in Massachusetts for the first time, staying in a hostel for $27.00 a night—the only way I could afford that expensive place.  I’d enjoyed the morning at the Farmer’s Market at the Grange Hall and now I was ready to explore Oak Bluffs. Waiting with me, was a young woman standing off to herself and a man around mid-forties with salt-and-pepper hair, a bit scruffy with a two-day beard who stood alongside me.  Bored with the wait, I started a conversation with the man.

“The weather’s great today, isn’t it?”  I said of the mid-June morning that felt like a crisp fall football day in North Carolina.

“Yes, it really is quite pleasant, I think.  You’ve been shopping, eh?” he responded, and nodded at my bag.

His voice had a slight accent, maybe Scottish, somewhere in the U.K., I thought.

“Yes, it’s a nice market. I had no idea there’d be so much farming here.  I just thought it would be like the islands off our coast in North Carolina.”

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West Tisbury Farmer’s Market, Martha’s Vineyard

We talked about the variety of crops grown in the area.  I asked him where he was from.

“I’m originally from Glasgow, Scotland,” he said.  “I’ve been here sixteen years already, painting houses.  There’s a lot of work on the Vineyard with all the salt and wind on the clapboards.”

The bus came and we ended up sitting in adjacent seats.

We talked about the large immigration of Scottish people to North Carolina.  I told him about the Highland Games in our mountains and the popularity of music that had developed into what was now bluegrass.

“Yeah, the Scottish people have to come here if they want to hear their traditional music.  You can’t hear it in Scotland.  It’s like it came to the States in a time capsule.”

We continued talking about music and then moved on to the topic of Scottish Presbyterians.  I told him about my Grandma Smith who was strong in that tradition and he told me about his sister who lived on the Outer Hebrides in a community of Presbyterians.  He remarked that those islands had a stunning beauty but he wasn’t sure he could live in that remote area.

“They’re so strict they tie up the swings so the children can’t swing on Sunday.”  He chuckled then added, “their church is called ‘Wee Freedom,’ you know the Scottish word for little is w-e-e and that’s the truth about their freedom, they just have a little of it!”  We laughed and he pulled the bell cord and picked up his bag.

“This is my stop. Nice talking with you,” he said and turned to leave.

I couldn’t remember when I’d enjoyed a conversation so much.  I made a mental note to look at a map of Scotland and locate the Hebrides.

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And I did.  Off the western coast of Scotland, there was the inner and outer band of islands, the Inner and Outer Hebrides.  I looked up pictures and saw what he meant by their “stunning beauty.”

From that moment, a seed of desire was planted in me to go to those islands.  That was in 2007.  Eight years later, when preparing for a presentation on pilgrimages as a spiritual discipline, I came across a book about Iona.  I’d never heard of that island in the Inner Hebrides that had been an international pilgrimage site for hundreds of years. Slowly that seed grew and pushed through the ground and developed into a full-grown plant.  I took my pilgrimage to Iona in September of 2017—ten years after that conversation with the stranger on the bus.

I think of that morning in Martha’s Vineyard, how I started that day like every other when I’m on my pilgrimage—praying that God will bless me and the people in my path.  I had no idea, that the Scottish painter would be one of those people and that our conversation would lead me toward Iona.

Last September when I was standing on the shore of the South Beach, I was overwhelmed by the stunning beauty of that remote area, so many hues of blue, the pinkish sand, the strong winds and sudden rains, the sheep and Highland cows that seemed unaffected by the weather.  I marveled at how God had led me to that moment and honored the desire of my heart.

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South Beach, Iona Scotland

How about you?

What chance meeting has led you to a significant discovery in your life?

How could you allow yourself to be moved by God’s spirit so you can be open to the people and places in your path?

Reframe It: From Hillcrest to Heaven

Today would have been my mother-in-law’s, Mary Dell (aka MeMa), 87thbirthday.  It’s hard to believe she passed away two years ago—sometimes it seems like longer, sometimes like yesterday.  She would be so excited about her first great-grandchild, even though she may have been a bit disappointed that she wasn’t getting the great-granddaughter she’d been hoping for.  But she would have been good with a baby boy because she’d raised three sons, and dearly loved her five grandsons.

I think of her now, drinking my cup of coffee out of the glass mug with the letter ‘H’ and Hillcrest etched into the side.  It was one of the promotional items that she received after her stay at Hillcrest Convalescent Center in Durham during her final year when she was in-and-out of hospitals and nursing centers.  After MeMa’s death, I wanted to get rid of the cup because it reminded me of the sadness of watching her decline, and the tension of those days.  But MeMa was a pragmatic person and she would think it’s foolish to toss out a perfectly good mug, especially since it was free.

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She had that same attitude about her monthly senior citizens’ luncheons put on by a local funeral home. She looked forward to seeing her friends there and raved about the food.  When her sons, and truthfully her daughters-in-law, made cracks about the funeral home’s targeted marketing, how they were going after their next most likely customers, MeMa became irritated with all of us.  She would say, “It’s not like that.  They’re really nice and the food is great—we don’t have to pay for it.”

That funeral home handled the arrangements when she died and now we have one of their canvas bags that’s a great size for carrying shoes when we travel.  Just like the mug, she wouldn’t want us to get rid of it. Seeing it now brings a smile as I think of her monthly luncheons, her spunky responses, standing her ground with her sophisticated children.

One of the things she really enjoyed was shopping.  A good visit was when we carried her out to eat and then went to a sale at Belk’s.  Our most memorable shopping trip was when I took MeMa and Mama to find their dresses to wear in my son’s, Brooks, wedding. Honestly, I’d dreaded it because I had to manage Mama in her wheelchair—finding dresses for her while also assisting MeMa.

After a prayer and a slow deep breath, I headed out on a Saturday in January with both grandmothers of the groom. Within a few minutes, we found matching style dresses with jackets that were in each of their sizes and different colors: Mary Dell’s a rose color and Mama’s purple.  I managed to maneuver Mama into the tight fitting room, get her into the dress and helped her stand long enough to check in the mirror.  MeMa changed in the next stall then came to stand beside Mama.

When they both looked in the mirror, Mary Dell had a huge smile and said to Mama, “Look, Mary.  We’re twins!”

How happy we were to find pretty outfits for both grandmothers.  When I look at the wedding pictures, I always remember that moment in the dressing room, Mary Dell’s delight.

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MeMa at the wedding with her sons

The Christmas before MeMa died, she stayed for a short time at Parkview before she returned to the hospital.  I took my Golden Retriever, Madison to see MeMa and Mama.  They both loved my dog.

Last July when Madison died, I had this strong image of her sitting on the grass in our front yard, sniffing the breeze as she loved to do.  But then the image broadened to include MeMa sitting beside Madison, smiling and happy.  MeMa was wearing a Capri set, made out of the rose-colored dress that she wore in the wedding.

That image was comforting to me—thinking of MeMa and Madison in a meadow, surrounded by wildflowers on a sunny day, like the place I envision as heaven.  It occurs to me, that the ‘H’ of my coffee mug could be reframed as ‘H’ for heaven. I don’t have to insist on just thinking of the negative.  I can see that those final days, though dark with MeMa’s decline, were a natural part of life and the way we leave.

Now I’m thankful that I can replace the final scene at the hospice bedside, with the new image of MeMa and Madison basking in the sunshine of Heaven.

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MeMa with Madison

 

How About You?

Are there ideas you have that could be reframed to provide a healthier perspective?

How would that help you to accept all that is life?

Hometown Journal: Going Back

There are people who feel they can’t go home again.  But for me, that’s not the case because I’m in my hometown of Sanford at least twice each week to visit Mama.  Since it’s just a fifty-minute drive, I often have occasions to get together there with my family and friends.  We sometimes eat in new restaurants that are in renovated buildings of the Sanford I knew as a child.  Part of me wants to go back to my hometown as if I’m on a pilgrimage, and see it with new eyes.

Back in the sixties, when I was in elementary school, children had a more limited circle of acquaintances than now—with all their sports and enrichment activities.  The people I knew beyond my family included our neighbors that were across the fields from our farm, fellow members of Shallow Well Church that was a mile from our house, and classmates at Jonesboro School that was three miles away.  Now when I drive around the town and see areas that I never saw as a girl, I think about how limited my view was in childhood.

My first stop on my pilgrimage home is to the newspaper, The Sanford Herald.  Years ago when I was writing a novel, I’d gone there to do research.  Now I’m surprised that they’ll still let me into their room of bound copies of the papers.  I pull out the volume with the issue from my day of birth– March 22, 1955.

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I leaf through the pages, carefully turning them to prevent a tear.  It feels amazing to have in my hands a newspaper that was produced when I was a newborn just a short distance away.  That old hospital is now a government office and social services.  I see that I was born on a Tuesday.

When I looked at the newspaper as a teen, I’d glance the front page then go to the social and sports pages– hoping to read about someone I knew.  In my birthday edition, I see that Jonesboro Heights, the part of town I rode through each day on the bus, had a Garden Club that met in our school cafeteria.  On the Social Highlights page, the club article on the upcoming meeting said that a study of Lilies and Caladiums would be presented by Mrs. J. H. Worthy and Mrs. J. M. Lloyd.  That makes me smile, thinking of those women gathered while Mama would have been in her own ‘garden club’– along with Daddy, planting acres of vegetables, shucking a pickup bed full of corn, and canning string beans until the wee hours of a July morning.

Also on the social page, there’s an announcement of the Coterie Rook club that was entertained at the home of  Mrs. Ross Pittman.  The article reports that after the group played “several progressions of bridge” they were served a salad course with coffee.  Years later I would know women who had played in card clubs, but not Mama.  She was either too busy or uninterested.

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The advertisement for Efird’s Department Store has cotton print dresses for $2.95, a creation of Top Mode Frocks.  I don’t remember buying any from there– and purchased few from other stores.  Mama made most of our clothes.  She was very skilled and seemed to enjoy creating something of beauty as well as a necessity.  While other women were shopping in the stores, Mama was sitting at her Singer, cranking out dresses for her three daughters.  Now I go into the fabric section of craft stores and walk down the aisles, remembering my excitement over picking out the cloth and pattern for a new outfit.  How fascinating it was to watch Mama produce a dress that looked as good, or better, than the one on the Simplicity pattern.

I leave the Herald office and drive to Parkview in time to feed Mama her dinner.  Brought into the present, I’m reminded of my special, hard-working mother from those years of childhood.  Part of the boon, or blessing you return with from a pilgrimage, is a broader perspective of your life.

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How about You?

Where would you like to return to from your childhood?

How might that become a pilgrimage of discovery?

Taking Time to Savor

A boulder has been lifted off my shoulders.  The project I’ve been working on for months, the book proposal for my memoir, Saved by Sedona: Finding a Path of Pilgrimage, has been completed and sent to an interested Literary Agent.  Instead of resorting to my past behavior of rushing on to the next thing, or trying to catch up on what’s been left undone, I want to take the time to savor what I’ve accomplished.

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When I started out, I researched different writing websites for how to structure a book proposal.  Some of them introduced the process with, “Many authors find composing a proposal harder than writing their book.” While that didn’t make me eager to tackle the project, it did help me realize that others’ found it challenging and later when I wanted to quit, it reminded me that my struggle wasn’t unique.

Since January my dining room table has been strewn with papers including examples and my own drafts of each section of the proposal: synopsis, chapter outlines, target markets, author platform, author bio, competitive titles, sample chapters etc. The biggest challenge was to go from thinking like a writer to thinking like a publisher—seeing the world from a marketing standpoint.  I have no experience with marketing and that language is foreign to me.

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Many times over the course of this project, I’ve gotten up from my chair and said, “I can’t do this, God. It’s just too much.”  I wanted to spend time watching movies, or taking a long walk, or reading someone else’s book.  I carried it on my recent journey to Florida and spent a rainy day sludging through the competitive titles section—trying in one paragraph to compare and contrast my book with other memoirs on the market.  What I wanted to do was nap all day like a cat.

But now as I reflect on the process, and the memoir is fresh from my final edits, I realize that going through the challenge of the book proposal was similar to going through breast cancer while working at The Research Company.  At my initial clinic visit when the plan for treatment was laid out—surgery, chemo, and radiation that would stretch over eight months, I was overwhelmed and didn’t know how I’d make it.  Gradually, the noise inside my head quieted down and I was able to hear that ‘still small voice of God’ say to just take one step at a time. Over those months, I found that, like my journeys that followed cancer and the toxic job, there were people along my path to help me.

I think of all those along this proposal path that have given me what I needed to complete the project: writers who’ve generously shared on their websites, fellow members of my Triangle Writers Group who’ve critiqued my proposal, a friend and media pro who worked with me to provide a marketer’s angle, family and friends—in person and through social media who have encouraged and prayed for me.

And there’s been the perseverance that God has given me that has been there because of feeling this is my purpose at this time in my life—what I’ve been given to do.  It means that I sacrifice some things that would be easier for what is best.  It means believing that this book will be published—at the right time.  That is the bigger picture and the impetus behind each small step through a task that felt bigger than me.

Now, I’m able to take a moment in the stillness without the boulder on my shoulders, and see that it has become a rock on which to stand, like the red rocks of Sedona.  Completing the book proposal has taken me deeper in faith and reminded me that no matter what obstacle I face, God my Rock is supporting me and will help me on that path.

 

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How About You?

What situation do you have that feels bigger than you?

Can you remember previous examples of how you’ve met similar challenges?

What resources do you have that can help you to take a step at the time and successfully navigate through the challenge?