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.


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.


(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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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?


Moving Question

I followed the blue heron along the shoreline of Coquina Beach, amazed that the large bird would allow me to trail so close behind.  I’d seen many of them flying over Jordan Lake in central North Carolina during my years of living in that area, but never had I walked within feet of one.  He or she, I didn’t know which, appeared to be searching for something, probably scanning the shallow water for food.  It occurred to me when the bird stopped from his roving and turned his head to the left, he appeared like a question mark.

It reminded me of how I approach my pilgrimages as if they’re a moving question mark, taking off on my journey and asking God, “What is it you’re going to show me this time?”


There have been times that I’ve been tempted to see the travel to-and-from my destination as not part of the journey.  But this time, given my long drive to my cousin’s on the Gulf Coast of Florida, I rethought that and saw that God can work in my life just as much on the drive as when I’m finally there.  The benefit of a road trip is there’s time for the transition from my everyday life at home to that space I’ll inhabit while I’m on my pilgrimage.

The first miles going south on I-95 were spent letting go of things undone and unresolved at home– like writing projects, my part-time job as a research nurse, and household responsibilities.  Sometimes my anxiety wants me to be sure everything is nicely settled before I leave.  During my previous 14 journeys, I’d found that same tendency which may be due in part to my internal resistance to leaving the safety of home, crossing the threshold to the unknown.  I tried to settle the issue by praying to let go of that latent worry.  I needed to rest in knowing I’m competent to handle whatever awaits me when I return.

After a couple of hours of driving, I started my radio-station-surfing since I didn’t have pre-programmed music.  I landed on an affiliate for K-Love, a Christian radio network.  The segment was on making a ‘stop-doing’ list as a way to counter our extensive to-do lists and our overly-busy, media-absorbed habits that keep us from being present with people who are important to us.

I threw out the question, “What do I need to stop doing, God?”

I drove on, waiting for something to come to the surface. In my quiet car, traversing the flat farmland of South Carolina, I was reminded that in working as a Life Coach, we often ask people to sit and wait for an answer.  It’s good for my journey to start with a question to go before me during the week.

The first answer I received was, You need time for quiet.


Specifically, the Podcasts icon came to mind and my emerging habit of binge listening to programs.  While stimulating and educational, they kept my mind buzzing and made it hard to settle down and be still.  Like other things, I needed to be more moderate and put limits on anything that takes up mental space, valuable attention, and ultimately zaps my energy.

The list to stop-doing continued on my drive and throughout the days of my journey.  It grew to include stop worrying, stop hanging on to items that clutter my life as well as my house, and to stop losing things that send me into a panic.

But before my stop-doing lists became too long, and a burden of too many things to remember, I realized that it can be a traveling question that stays with me beyond my Florida pilgrimage.

Like the blue heron along the shore, I can fly away and pick up the search in another place, carefully watching to see what floats up for me.


How About You?

What is your moving question?

How can you be open to the answers that surface?





Friends for a Lifetime

I’ve been fooled at times, thinking the friends I had would last.  Like when I worked with a woman in clinical research trials.  We seemed to get along so well and have a lot in common. During that time, I was struggling through chemotherapy and working on one of her company’s studies.  She was the monitor and was so thoughtful—never pushing too hard, always considering how it was for me to work and go through treatment. We even enjoyed a day exploring Napa Valley when we attended a research conference.  But later, after I finished treatment and we completed her study, the friendship fizzled out.  I’d learned that her mother had breast cancer and I guess part of her friendship with me was working through that.  She was a friend for a season.


stock photo of Old Friends

There have been other friendships like that—when you shared things for a time in your life then moved on, leaving that relationship in the past.  The older I get, the more I know the value of friendships that last a lifetime.  Yesterday, I realized that when my friends honored me with a ‘Grandma Shower.’

Our plan was to gather the five of us—friends that had been together since our freshman year of college.  But before that, I’d been friends with two of the women.  I’d known Donna since first grade when our desks were side-by-side and we collected colored glass on the playground—back in the day when we drank sodas from glass bottles and no one thought of recycling.  Then Pam became a friend in ninth grade when she saved me from Algebra.  Donna, Pam, and I shared a large dorm room across the hall from Debbie and Kay our freshman year.  From that time on our bond was formed and now when we’re together, we go from talking about our struggles to laughing until we cry about the pranks we played in the dorm.

How good it is to be with friends from the same era, all knowing the same music, the same references, sharing the same core values—of faith, kindness, creativity, and the love of laughter.  These are women I trust, and when I look at popular shows about groups of women, like the Housewives’ shows, I can’t relate.  My girlfriends are not women who are catty and competitive, back-stabbing and superficial.  They are women who see beyond the surface and value the things that last.


Visiting our College Dorm (L to R) Pam, Kay, Donna, Debbie (below), Me

We were disappointed that Debbie and Kay had to cancel but vowed to schedule another get-together as soon as possible.  At our age, we see that you must be intentional about time for friendship.  Meanwhile, Pam, Donna, and I went out to lunch then returned to Pam’s for my shower.  How nicely she’d decorated, from the “It’s a Boy” sign in the yard, to the banner across her mantle, to the party table.  Everything was thoughtfully planned and color coordinated.  I appreciated the time and energy Pam had put into this special honor for me.  She has known the joy of being a Grandmother to her grandsons and is so happy that I’ll understand that bond.

Donna provided the Prosecco to toast the event and to drink with the sweet homemade cake.  Instead of ‘shower games’ we did an art activity—something we’ve all enjoyed over the years.  Donna in retired-art teacher-fashion had a plastic bin full of craft supplies to make treasure boxes.  We decorated them with jewel pieces, ribbons, shells, and flowers.  But the best part was sharing our responses to questions about sensory memories that we’d written down and cut into pieces and placed inside our box–reminders of what we treasure.

We had just talked about things we learned about Donna’s mother through stories people shared at her funeral service last November.  While we three had known each other for a long time, we’d never done this activity together.  Some friends might play games like Trivial Pursuit and challenge each other; we did this activity to know each other.

I learned that Donna associates the sound of the wind through pine trees with Easter at her Grandfather’s.  Pam loved the sight of her Grandsons’ faces, and I think that will soon be my favorite sight, as well.  We took our time sharing each of our responses, dwelling in that place of learning things we didn’t know about each other.

Too soon we had to go.

“It’s a shame we can’t have more time like that,” Donna said on our way back to my house.  “Seems that life goes by so quickly and we don’t have enough of those moments.”

She’s right.

But we are lucky that when we do have time together, it is well-spent, encouraging one another, building each other up and knowing that we’re in it for a lifetime.


Enjoying my Grandma Shower

How about You?

How do you make time for nurturing your friendships– whether they’re for a season or for a lifetime?

How can you be more intentional in building your relationships?






Depth of Despair

We sat in front of the television eating our barbeque sandwiches and watching Perry Mason reruns.  My cousin, Linda, had loved that show since she was a twenty-year-old when it was produced in 1961.  I remembered seeing it as a girl, and at the time, I didn’t appreciate how handsome Raymond Burr was—which I saw now.  Linda thanked me for coming to see her and for bringing the North Carolina style barbeque, saying several times, “It’s just not as good in Florida.”

We ate our savory sandwiches with deli coleslaw and kettle fries and a healthy serving of bread-and-butter pickles from a huge Sam’s jar.  It was early afternoon in the 55-and-Over neighborhood of her Gulf Coast community where some of the snowbirds were preparing to return to Canada and other northern destinations.  Linda was debating about continuing her pattern of living between North Carolina and Florida, the burden of maintaining two homes more difficult as she grows older and health problems increase.  A new Perry Mason episode started and I was reminded of how all shows were in black-and-white on our first television, feeling as if I’d slipped back into our family room in the sixties.


We continued with the show and reminisced about childhood— her memories so different from mine since she’s fourteen years older.  She shared stories I’ve never heard.  I hadn’t realized how much caregiving she’d done in her lifetime—two husbands, her parents, and hardest of all, her younger child—a son, my cousin, Joe.  It had been less than two years since his death.  As a mother, a mother of sons, my heart had broken for Linda.

It was only in the last few years of Joe’s life that I’d gotten to know him.  He’d lived in Virginia until a serious injury at work led to a downward spiral of one complicated medical problem after another.  Eventually, he needed his mother’s care and in his early forties had to move in with her in North Carolina.  I’d see Joe when he came with Linda to visit.  Gradually I got to know him.  When he was finally well enough to attempt a new career, he completed a program to be a pharmacy tech.  He appreciated that as a nurse, I understood some of what he’d studied.  We started talking on the phone and I came to know some of the things he loved.  Like basketball.

The one thing Joe and I didn’t agree on was our favorite college team; he pulled for Duke and I’m a UNC-Chapel Hill alumna– arch rivals.   He was supposed to visit me and we were going to Duke’s campus for him to buy Blue Devils’ team wear.  But that trip had to be canceled twice.  I could hear the disappointment in his voice.  In an act of love, I went there and bought that jersey for him and threw in some Cameron Crazies’ Blue Hair.  I told him he had to wear it when he watched every game and scream like they do.  It was a poor substitute for him being well enough to make the trip, but it provided a bit of humor, a slight boost of hope.

During the weeks before Joe died, he’d been much stronger and was able to do two things he loved: attend a Nascar race and a Kiss Concert.  I knew he loved Nascar, but I didn’t know he was a Kiss Groupie until he texted me a picture, backstage with Gene Simmons and the rest of the band.  He called to tell me what an incredible time he had and how he and Linda were looking forward to visiting us the next weekend.


But on the following Tuesday, my sister called to say that Joe had died.  I was shocked.  I could not imagine the depth of pain and despair Linda was experiencing.

Sitting in the quiet of Linda’s family room, now eighteen months after Joe’s death, we talked about that shock.  As hard as it was to relive that with her, I was glad that I’d developed a relationship with Joe and had shared some of his last days with him, and now could remember them with Linda.

Before each solo journey, I pray about where I should go and for the people and places in my path.  It was my first pilgrimage in March, and when I left on the 21st, the day before my birthday, a family member texted me to say that day would have been Joe’s birthday.  I didn’t know.

But God did, I thought.

Soon after I arrived, I went ahead and brought it up.

“You know, I don’t think Joe and I ever talked about our birthdays,” I told Linda.  “Guess with ours’ just a day apart, that’s why we understood each other.”

She nodded and said, “Probably so.”

I was glad we could talk openly about what I knew she must be thinking.  When we went out to dinner on my birthday, we toasted me and Joe, looking up to draw him into that meal, acknowledging our wish that he was there with us.

Now, I see Linda as strong in spite of being weak from health problems, resilient in spite of a mother’s worst fear being realized.  She has been to the depths of despair, and I thank God that somehow she is rising from those ashes.





Happy Wanderer

I should have left an hour earlier.  That’s what I said to myself when I was in bumper-to-bumper traffic for almost an hour, just after leaving Jacksonville, Florida with a seven-hour drive ahead.  My rental car was due back at Raleigh-Durham airport by 8:00 p.m. and I didn’t want to add an extra day of fees.  Besides, it was the end of my trip and I just wanted to get home.  But first I’d have to spend hours on I-95.

There were more slow sections after Jacksonville, with roadwork and onlooker delays for fender-benders.  Funny how it seemed like that road had actually extended in the six days since I’d driven down.  I stopped briefly for bathroom breaks and to fill up on gas.  I’d switch from one radio station to the next, then turn it off and compose a cover letter for my book proposal—saying it aloud to see how it sounded, then listened to a podcast—anything I could do to distract me from looking at the mileage signs—reminding me just how much further I had to go, wanting to pick that car up and fly it.


Bike ride at Coquina Beach

I filled the drive with thinking of each day of my trip; the cozy birthday dinner with my son, Brooks and his wife, Emily, talking about our grandson due May 5th; visiting with my cousin Linda and sharing family stories; riding my bike under the cover of Australian pines then cooling my feet while walking in the edge of the Gulf; meeting my virtual friend, Jann from Twitter at Starbucks in Orlando; a rainy day at Atlantic Beach working on my book proposal, forced to face it with nothing better to do; driving over the bridges and looking out at the expansive vistas on my way to Amelia Island where I rode my bike on the trail then walked along the Atlantic.

Finally, I pulled into my driveway just after 7:00.  My husband, David, helped me unload the car quickly, dropping the piles of stuff on the couch then we headed to the airport.  I looked like a haggard mess, like I hadn’t slept in days, circles from allergies and tiredness under my eyes, my clothes as if I’d worn them for a week.  We stopped for dinner on our way home.  I was too hungry to care about my appearance, glad to eat in a restaurant instead of my car.

“We’ll have some birthday cake when we get home—since we didn’t celebrate before you left,” David said, while we waited for our food.

I liked the idea of continuing my birthday, and cake would taste good after a spicy fish taco.

Once we were home, I started putting away my things while David prepared my surprise.  He’d bought me a bouquet of flowers with pink roses and snapdragons, and blue hydrangea—my favorite mix.  My yellow cake with strawberry icing and a lemon filling was decorated in an Easter theme with a small duck and cheerful pastels.


But best of all was David’s card– he always picks great cards.  The colorful flowers were made with embroidered stems and blooms, some with shiny glass accents.  They popped against the black cloth background.

Inside, he wrote:

“Happy Birthday to my happy wanderer!”

Oh, I thought.  I must appear happy in spite of my tiredness.  He sees beyond my haggardness to the heart of me.

It’s true that even with the day of driving, I was happy.  I felt that familiar satisfaction of planning a journey and carrying through with that plan.  With each of the fifteen pilgrimages I’ve completed, my confidence has grown and I’ve experienced greater awareness of God’s grace.

Eating my sweet cake, I felt overwhelming gratitude for David’s support and for all the people and places in my path—even my very long path along I-95.


card by PAPYRUS

How about You?

What are the things in your life that bring you deep satisfaction?

How do others’ view you when you emerge yourself in that activity?