Sunday Suppers

It was almost 9:30 on Friday night when the Amtrak train finally pulled into Penn Station in New York City.  The eleven- hour ride from Durham was my first solo journey by rail.  Our younger son, Ross, was twenty-eight and had lived in Manhattan for five years.  I would spend the weekend with him before I continued my trip on Monday morning to White River Junction, Vermont.

While my husband, David, and I had visited Ross several times in the city, I’d never gone by myself.  I looked forward to our visit but wondered how it would be for him to have his mom staying.  When things became testy with Ross—the typical parent and adult child tension, David was good at defusing the situation with his sarcastic, male humor—which he and Ross shared.  I would remember David’s advice, “Don’t ask too many questions.”

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The crowd of travelers in the tight space of Penn Station was difficult to navigate. It was noisy with frequent announcements of arrivals and departures, fretful children, and a protest group that marched through.  What a relief when I saw Ross. He gave me a hug and kiss and took my heaviest bags.

“Is that the barbecue?” he asked, pointing to the thermal bag hanging from my shoulder.

“Sure is,” I answered.  He’d told me his friend asked if his mom was bringing treats, and when he told her about the barbecue, she said, “Only a mother’s love.”

Ross hailed a cab and we took off for the Upper West Side.  It was a relief to arrive at his second story walk-up in an older building with high ceilings and creaking wooden floors.  He apologized for the small amount of space, especially the tiny bathroom.  My husband and I usually stayed in a nearby hotel when we visited.

“It’s fine,” I told him, “I just like being here with you.”

By staying with him, I was getting to see more of his life—how he spent his days.  We weren’t wasting our precious weekend going back-and-forth to a hotel.

On Saturday morning, he took me to his favorite bagel shop for breakfast then we walked around Central Park.  He showed me the baseball field where he and a friend threw the ball and hit grounders.  When I slowed down to look at something, he got annoyed.

“Mama, in the city you can’t just stop in the middle of the sidewalk.  It’s like stopping in the middle of the road in North Carolina.”

I was more careful after that, making sure I paid attention and kept step with my city-wise son.  He didn’t have to remind me again as we walked 55 blocks then took a cab back to his apartment.

 

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Enjoying Central Park with my son

 

I asked him where we could go for dinner that night, ready to treat him to a relaxing meal.

“I’d really like it if we could cook tonight and tomorrow night while you’re here,” he responded.  That evening we’d keep it simple and make barbecue sandwiches.

On Sunday, we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge in record heat for mid-July.  I managed not to be hit by ‘stepping out of my lane’ and into the path of the fast-moving bikers.

On our way home, we stopped to buy groceries for one of Ross’s favorite meals: Biltmore pecan chicken, wild rice, and green beans.

We worked quietly in the sparsely appointed bachelor’s kitchen.  He cut the ends off the beans while I blended the butter and mustard for the chicken.

“When I was in a relationship, we’d always cook on Sunday evenings,” he said and reached for a sauté pan.  I knew the girl he was referring to, one he’d broken up with some time ago.  He drizzled some olive oil and continued, “Because Sunday night is family.”

I let his words sit there, feeling love for my son as we cooked together.

Remembering back to Sunday nights long ago, I was cooking in our kitchen when Ross and his brother, Brooks, came in from church youth group.  We sat down to supper and shared the meal that was a sweet ending to our weekend together.

I’m glad I traveled here to see that my son remembers, too.

 

What about you?

Is there someone you need to visit?

How would it change the dynamics if you were with them without sharing the time with others?

 

 

 

Color’s Calling

The gray days of early February were weighing me down.  Being used to moderate winters in North Carolina, I’d had about all I could take of sub-freezing days and the sun hiding out behind depressing clouds.  At that time, I was in a group of women who were learning to knit scarves.  When my mood continued to plummet along with the temperature, I had a strong urge to escape to the yarn store.

I instinctively found the section of turquoise yarn that ranged from solid bulky skeins to variegated finger weights.  For a long while, I stood in front of the bins absorbing the colors.  It was as if I was infusing a medication that immediately brightened my spirit.

Never had I been so aware of needing color.

Years before, my husband and I traveled to the Caribbean.  I fell in love with those tropical, turquoise waters feeling like I’d found the place my soul had been searching for.  Standing in front of the yarn I was back on that shore.

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On my first journey to Sedona, the landscape was the opposite of tropical. Those cool colors were replaced by the warm earth tones of red rocks and bright sun that had a grounding effect on me.  My life had been a dizzying whirl of eight months of cancer treatment and a stressful job— one I would paint a sad blue.

Standing on the warm rocks of Sedona, made me feel I had stepped into Psalm 40:2, that God had given me that firm, safe place.  I needed the stability of earth, of the dust from which we came.

Later when I traveled to Colorado Springs for an April journey, I felt the sturdy red rocks giving me that same warm security.

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Standing secure in The Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs.

When I traveled to the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, I stayed at Colter Bay and felt nourished by the snow-covered Tetons that were mirrored in the lake—a double beauty to behold.  Taking my morning walks next to the lake, I drank in that site that was dotted with boats of primary colors—like the crayons of school children.

I journeyed to upstate New York in search of beautiful sunsets.  There I stayed at Tibbett’s Point Lighthouse Hostel at Cape Vincent, the place where the St. Lawrence River flows into Lake Ontario, a setting of famed sunsets.  I’d realized that I’d been too busy most of my life to watch the setting sun.  Observing the progression of the day giving into the night, it was as if I was watching a watercolorist applying her cotton candy pinks and swirls of lavender to the canvas dome overhead.  That living color produced a joyful finale.

Now I trust the call to color, listening to what my spirit is telling me that I need.  Especially when my cares weigh me down and life slips into tedium, I’ve found that the amazing hues in nature restore my sense of wonder, my belief in the goodness of God, who created us with the need for color to restore our souls.

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What about you?

Do you realize the need for a certain color in your life?

What are ways to provide that infusion of energy?

 

Lavender Field Morning

The Pelindaba Lavender Farm stretched before me like a landscape canvas; foreground with rows of lavender, mid ground with a lake dotted by white triangular sails of small boats maneuvered by summer campers, and background of snow-covered Mt. Baker stretching majestically to the northeast.  I walked the perimeter in the cool morning air that was fragrant with the sweet smell of lavender, a healing balm that reminded me, take care of yourself.

When I’d planned my Solo Journey to the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington State, I was excited that I’d be there during their Lavender Festival.   My husband had a struggling pot of lavender on our patio back in North Carolina, but it didn’t appear to be winning the fight against the harsh July sun.  Here in the cool, moist air on Puget Sound, the plants flourished.  “David, you’d love this lavender,” I said, as I thought of my husband, wishing he could feast his eyes on the purple clumps in varying stages of growth.  Some plants were partially open and others that received the most direct light, fully open and a brighter purple.  I watched the sun cast a spotlight on alternating sections of the field as the clouds passed in front of its path.

What a glorious place to take my morning walk.

I thought of a line from a favorite hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”

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“Morning by Morning New Mercies I see”

I remembered two years earlier when I was informed I needed treatment of the lymphedema in my left arm.  It had been six years since my diagnosis of breast cancer and the lymph node removal that caused the swelling.   I was angry that cancer was interfering with my life again.  The initial lymphedema treatment involved daily massage and wrapping.  I felt the treatment would take too much time out of my cherished summer break from my position as a school nurse.

The day after I heard about needing that treatment, I took my solo journey to a Catholic retreat center, Sea of Peace, on Edisto Island, South Carolina.  There I had individual sessions with Sharon, the spiritual lay leader who operated the center.   After I lamented to her about the issue with my arm, she posed the question to me, “Don’t you think you deserve care?”

After my week at Sea of Peace, I decided to go through with the treatment.  I was assigned to Dorie, who had a calm manner and had special certification in Vodder massage used for the lymphatic system.  She gently performed the manual drainage to reduce the bogged lymph and then bandaged my arm from my shoulder to my fingers, mummifying that arm.  I became more aware of areas in my body where there was fluid build up.  I noticed the ache in the back of my left shoulder disappeared after Dorie rerouted the trapped lymph to a working port.

I didn’t realize how much lymphedema had impacted me until I received the treatment.

Each morning before Dorie massaged my arm, she coated her hands in lavender lotion.  It had just enough scent to be pleasing and not overwhelming.  Every since that time, the fragrance of lavender had been a healing balm.

I traveled across the country to arrive in this field of lavender.  From here I see the tender purple stalks, en masse, their essential oils providing soothing relief to people in many places.  I’m grateful for the tender mercies of wise counsel from Sharon and Dorie’s therapeutic hands, both providing care and reminding me that I deserve it.

http://www.pelindabalavender.com

https://www.visitsanjuans.com/about-islands/friday-harbor-san-juan-island

What about you?

In what ways do you need to take care of yourself?

How could you allow time for that?

 

Interior Mansion

“This doesn’t look like the picture on the website,” I said to myself when I pulled into the hostel, my heart sinking.  The nondescript, white frame house needed paint and renovation.  What will it be like here, I wondered and thought of the next three days.

From the exterior, this hostel was less impressive than the ones I’d stayed in on Martha’s Vineyard and the San Juan Islands.  Doubt was creeping in.  Then, that still small voice of counsel came to me, “Don’t compare.  Just accept this place for what it has to offer.”

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Wonder what you’ll teach me here, God, I thought.

I followed the manager on her tour of the facility.   There were guests in the living area with huge backpacks, folks who were taking a break from the Appalachian Trail that was close by.

Outside, there were two men and a woman– probably in their late twenties, dressed in bathing suits, packing inner tubes into the back of their SUV.  Must be heading for the  river, I thought, since the Shenandoah and Potomac converged in Harper’s Ferry.  That evening, I met one of the men in the hostel kitchen.  He sat at the table while I stood nearby at the counter and prepared my dinner.  He was friendly and told me he and the other two traveling companions lived in the New York City area.

“I’m actually a Youth Pastor, and those kids were getting to me,” he said.  He wore a tank top and his upper arm was covered in tattoos– crosses and scripture.

“Yeah, working with teenagers is very challenging,” I responded.  “I’m a middle school nurse and I definitely have times of feeling burned out.”

He told me about taking them on a retreat and one pulling a stupid prank that sent them to the ER.

“Sounds typical,”  I responded.  “Kids that age look up to you.  I’m sure you’re making a difference in their lives.”

The next day, I rode my bike along the C & O Canal Tow Path and visited a train museum.  The volunteer, a retired railroad worker, explained the exhibit with such passion.  Later our conversation moved to dealing with dementia– his wife and my mother.

That night at the hostel, I saw the Youth Pastor who smiled and said he’d had a relaxing day on the river—the water refreshing him.

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A family with three young children came in with sushi and a birthday cake to celebrate the youngest child turning six.  The mother’s head was shaved.  I felt like I’d been ‘gut-punched,’ immediately assuming she had cancer, recalling my shock when I was told I had cancer.

Later, when we talked, she explained that she took her three kids out of New York City each summer to section hike the Appalachian Trail.  Her husband met them along the way.  She’d shaved her head to make it easier.

“I think you’re very brave to hike with your children,” I told her.  “Especially being the only parent. ”

She asked me how I started taking my journeys.  When I responded they had followed a toxic job and breast cancer, she looked concerned.

“I have a friend with breast cancer.  And I’m so afraid I’ll have it,” she told me.  “How did you handle it?”

We talked for a while and I told her about my treatment and how much I’d depended on God, and how it had eventually made me stronger.  When we ended our conversation, she took my hand and said, “You are very brave.”

When I left the hostel, I remembered how I’d initially judged it by it’s exterior.  But after three days, I saw that the interior of it was a mansion, with rich conversations and colorful people that weren’t in need of fixing up.

What about You?

Have you had an experience where your initial impression was totally changed by what you later discovered?

How did that alter how you approach new situations?

 

 

 

Flying Horses

I stood at the edge of the crowd of adoring family and friends cheering on the riders of the Flying Horses Carousel at Oak Bluffs.  My coworker from Boston, had told me that when she was a child, her family came here every summer.  It was a popular spot on Martha’s Vineyard.  I could just see her in little-girl-braids, sitting atop one of the horses that remained stationary while the carousel went round-and- round.  She, like the other riders, would have reached out and tried to grasp one of the lucky brass rings to earn a free ride.

Before my trip, my friend told me, “You have to try for a ring, Connie.”

But I held back and remained an observer of the oldest operating platform carousel in the United States.                                                      shutterstock_553055869

Now I asked myself, “Why didn’t I get on and ride?”  After going all that distance, my first solo trip to Massachusetts, why did I stop short of my goal?

That fourth journey had taken a lot of initiative, especially planning my transportation: by air to Logan, then charter bus to Woods Hole, followed by ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, and shuttle bus to the hostel.  By that day at Oak Bluffs, I had explored most of the island, so why didn’t I just hop on that carousel?  Was I afraid that as a fifty-two-year old woman I would look foolish?  Could I have felt like I failed if I didn’t capture a brass ring— kind of like missing a grounder when I played softball that summer after high school?

Not trying for a ring didn’t ruin my trip.  There’d been many enriching experiences since my arrival on the island.  I’d gotten to know the international community of travelers at my first hostel.  One day I started with coffee at the Clay Cliffs of Aquinnah and ended watching the sunset in the fishing village of Menemsha.                                                                fullsizeoutput_1a3

So why did I still feel something was missing?  I think I knew.

The carousel represented half-lived experiences.

Looking back on my life, before my breast cancer diagnosis at forty-five, I often fell into the role of an observer.  Perhaps as the second-born child, I had gotten used to letting my older sister go first and take the risks.  That pattern continued into my adulthood—as I was seldom the first to raise my hand and volunteer.  But when chemo made my hair fall out and I had to do work presentations in my itchy wig, I couldn’t retreat.  All I could do was step forward.  While I didn’t like having cancer, or a toxic job, I was grateful that God helped me through that time and worked inside of me to give me greater boldness.  Sometimes that happens when you feel you have nothing to lose.

What if I’d let myself go and approached that carousel ride like I was a child?  I would have had a whole-body experience.  The muscles in my outstretched hand would have either felt the ring or grasped the air.  My legs would recall the climb onto that historic horse, touching the real horsehair mane, and looking into their dazzling glass eyes.  My face would remember the cool breeze as we circled around to the happy tunes of the Wurlitzer Band Organ.  I would have been part of that community of riders that dated back to the late 1800s, sharing the joy of a whimsical orbit on the back of a still horse.  And whether or not I captured a ring– I would have felt the satisfaction of knowing I’d been fully engaged.  That I’d been a participant, not an observer.

I wish I’d had the boldness that day at the carousel that I’d had during cancer.  Now, I think this regret is a reminder to go ahead and live life fully.  Don’t hold back.

And if I take a trip again to Oak Bluffs, I plan to hop up on that carousel horse and

fly like nobody’s watching.’

 

http://carouselhistory.com/envira/marthas-vineyard-flying-horses-1876-dare/

What about you?

Are there situations where you’d like to move from being an observer to a participant?

What would help you make this change?

 

 

Intentional Pilgrimage

Four years after that first trip to Sedona, I found myself buried under the stuff of my life: overscheduled, overworked, overvolunteered.  I was about to turn fifty and my husband asked if I’d like a birthday party.

“No, thanks.  But I would like to take a trip.  By myself.”

I was remembering the freedom of Sedona and how renewed I felt when I returned home.

There was this longing to go away, by myself, but I didn’t have any idea how to start.  Where should I go?  What would be safe for me—a woman traveling alone?  My trip would be in summer—when I had a two- month break from my job as a school nurse.  We had two sons in college so it had to be economical.

I felt the pull to go to water.  Living in central North Carolina, there were lots of beaches in quick driving distance.  But the ones I knew were too familiar; it needed to be more of an adventure to the unknown.  Considering places in a reasonable driving distance, I chose Jekyll Island, Georgia.

Jekyll Island GA, Pilgrimage, Solo Journey

 

I’d only been there once, on a family trip. The island was considered a state park and required going through an entrance gate, which should add to its safety.   It would be like a new place since I could do the things I wanted instead of being focused on activities for children.  Jekyll was about a six- hour drive from home—close enough that if I was uncomfortable by myself, I could turn around.  I wondered if it was selfish to leave my mother, who was needing more assistance due to dementia.  My two sisters would be there to help.  We had to take care of ourselves, too.

Setting out on my journey, I prayed that God would bless me and ‘the people in my path.’    I felt that starting my trip with that prayer, opened my eyes to what might appear below the surface.  Going on a pilgrimage is about having your eyes and heart open.

I scheduled three days there—brief like my time in Sedona, where I’d seen that length of stay doesn’t always predict the impact of the journey.  I checked into the motel that met my three requirements: safe, clean, affordable.

The next morning, before I set out on my bike to explore the island, I took a moment to ground myself, reading from the Psalms.  Feeling the cumulative tiredness from a hectic school year and my family and community responsibilities, the Psalm seemed to be spot on:

 “He satisfies my desires with good things

So that my youth is renewed like the Eagle’s.”

Psalm 103:5  NIV

Boy, I need my youth renewed, I thought.

That day, I felt like a girl again, riding my bicycle on the path that circled the island.  Later, I found shelter from a thunderstorm on the porch of the Vanderbilt cottage where I read my delicious new paperback– a perfect companion.  That night, I was refreshed by a swim in the huge hotel pool.

pilgrimage to Jekyll Island, GA, Solo Journey

After three days, I felt like I had traveled back to my childhood and had been reminded how to play.

That must be why I felt pulled to this place, I thought.

When I left the island, I vowed to play more often.  Not be buried again by the responsibilities of being an adult.  That was the gift I would carry home.

Now, when I look back at that first intentional pilgrimage, I see that it showed me how to look  inside myself for my destination—to follow where my energy led.  It was okay to leave my family, even my mother, and trust that others would provide care for her while I cared for myself.  And it was helpful each morning, to ground myself in my desire for that day—my intention for the journey.

What about you?

–Have you felt the pull to take a journey by yourself and wondered if you were being selfish?

–Could you go away to care for yourself and let others care for those you leave behind?  Could you do this for a short time to a place that is close by?