The Path of the Storm

I ran my travel errands amid the reports of Hurricane Irma approaching Florida and two other storms, Jose and Katya, also churning the waters.  Watching the predictions of Irma’s path, I’m focused on Atlanta and Charleston, the two cities where my sons live, and then I watch for our area of central North Carolina.  Besides buying water and canned goods for hurricane preparation, I pick up my order of euros and pounds from the bank and stand in line at the post office to stop mail service.  I have an unsettled feeling about the storm, but some of that restlessness is about leaving on a journey.

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The critical voice in my head has been growing louder, saying, “Why did you plan a trip in September when hurricanes are most likely?”  The gentle voice responds, “You’ve always wanted to travel in September, and now you can.”  This year, when I felt the pull to go to Iona for my pilgrimage, I looked up the themes they had for the Abbey.  The last offering for the year in the last week of September was, “The Pilgrimage of Life.”  I said to myself, “That’s perfect.”

I’ll celebrate my retirement from twenty years of school nursing by taking a trip in September—the month that had been the hardest in that job.  First, my husband and I will celebrate forty years as a couple—thirty-nine of those married, by traveling to Paris, London, and Edinburgh.  We’ll part in Scotland.  He’ll return to the States while I’ll board a train for Oban and on from there to Iona.

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So now, I feel pulled wanting to go and wanting to stay.  I’ve experienced that same tension with other journeys when there was no hurricane.  Some of it’s the feeling of wanting to hunker down at home and stay safe, to not push myself to travel to the unknown.

I return to Christine Valters Paintner’s The Soul of a Pilgrim.  She talks about how going on a pilgrimage is in part a practice of being uncomfortable.  While my solo journey to Iona will start when I board the train in Edinburgh, the beginning of the pilgrimage really starts at home with the anticipation and preparation.  Whether it’s our trip together or my subsequent journey in Iona, it would be tempting to think of only the good things.  People tell us how lucky we are and how much fun it’ll be.  And that’s how we all like to think of travel, of journeys away from our everyday life.  Paintner points out that we’re often taught that we should just feel happy when in actuality, we have ambiguity and contradictions in our experience.

Getting ready for any trip away from the safety of our home routines can be anxiety producing—even when there’s no threatening hurricane.  There will be wonderful experiences in Europe with my husband, but there will also be times of tension and frustration, of tiredness and wishing we were in the easy routines of home.

The best I can do, or we can do as a couple, is to embrace what each moment has to offer.  Right now, I have to accept the uncertainty.  I can’t jump ahead to knowing the impact of the storm, if we’ll have to alter our travel plans, if it will change the course of our trip.

I will put my anxiety on my pilgrimage altar and pray for each step into the unknown, to know the assurance of the still small voice of God that leads me on the path.

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putting all my worries on the altar

What about you?

Do you experience anxiety when you’re preparing to leave on a journey?

How do you handle the pull to go and the pull to stay?

How can you embrace the ambiguities of life with gentleness and acceptance?

Chicken Man of Chincoteague

I wanted a picture of the sign by the road, my final snapshot from my journey to Chincoteague Island, Virginia.  It would be a gift for my chicken-loving-friend in Baltimore.  Pulling out my camera, a man came over to me.

“Mind if I take a picture of your sign?”

“It’ll cost you some silver,” he said, and a grin spread across his face.

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the person in my path

We stood there in the noon heat of that July day and he told me about his life on the island.  What an easy manner he had.  His description of living there made me wish I could be a part of that community.  I started each day of my journey praying for the ‘people in my path’ and this man, while his name was Joe, has been set in my memory as the ‘Chicken Man.’  His lighthearted manner brought me joy that day.

From taking thirteen journeys, I’ve met many interesting people.  Our conversations have opened me to new ways of viewing life.  Some have been from other countries and have given me a glimpse of their cultural perspective.  Others have done things that have helped me as a solo traveler.

This was never more true than when I became acutely ill from altitude sickness in Colorado Springs.  I rode the Pike’s Peak Cog Rail train to 11,500 feet, and literally lost it, throwing up and becoming weak with fever and chills.  Embarrassed but relieved, I curled into a fetal position with my coat pulled close until we finished the ride.  Staggering off the train, I took the soda the gift store clerk offered me and rested until I could make it to my rental car.  How I wished my husband was with me to drive back to the guest house.

For the remainder of that day and the next, I barely left my room, sleeping from the extreme tiredness that accompanied my low-grade fever and headache.  Barely awake from my in-and-out sleep, I heard a scraping sound just outside my second-floor window.  I looked out to the snowy parking lot and saw the owner of the guesthouse scraping the ice from my windshield.  He knew I had to leave early the next morning.  What an act of kindness.

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Not only a great cook, a kind man

On another trip, I remember a young college-age girl, Angela, who was working as a wrangler at Colter Bay in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.  She was one of the summer staff who directed the trail rides.  She was quite competent in her horseback riding skills being a competitive barrel racer.  I told her I really wanted to ride, but was afraid since I hadn’t been on a horse in over twenty years.  She told me she would be right there to help me.

When my huge horse, Tequila, tried to push out in front of the others, Angela took control and coaxed Tequila back into the line.  With Angela riding behind me, we were able to talk.  She shared with me about her father’s cancer and feeling guilty that she wasn’t back home with him.  I was able to encourage this concerned daughter, telling her what I wanted for my sons when I had cancer treatment, assuring her that her father wanted her to go on with her life.

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Riding Tequila

Each day people show up in our path.  I’m grateful for the gifts of Joe the Chicken Man, and the owner of the inn, and Angela.  Whether we’re far from home or just down the street, if we’re present to each person, we find ways we inspire and help one another.  It just takes being open with a pilgrim’s heart.

How about you?

How can you go through your day being present to the people in your path?

In what ways have you experienced people as unexpected gifts?

How can you slow down and be that for the stranger you encounter?

Walking to the Depths

My third solo journey was to the Sea of Peace House of Prayer, a center for contemplation at Edisto Island, South Carolina.  I was searching for pastoral support to examine my life.  Sharon, the spiritual director, described the tools available including one-to-one sessions and walking the labyrinth.  When I saw that sandy path edged in stones and shells, I was skeptical that walking it would produce anything of value.  I was wrong.

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photo by Susan Klavohn Bryant

Sharon introduced that seven circuit path with only one way to the center.  At first, I walked it too quickly, but gradually I began to slow down.  After several mornings, I saw a brown oak leaf in the center of the path.  For a moment, it appeared as if the word pride was written across the center vein of the leaf.

What has pride got to do with anything, I thought.

That evening in my one-to-one session with Sharon, I told her how hard it was to let go of striving to accomplish.  I described my busy, overbooked life as a wife, mother, school nurse, and volunteer with my church.  I told her about my walk around the labyrinth.

“There was a leaf in my path, and in my mind’s eye, I saw the word pride written on it.  I’m not sure why.”

Sharon waited while both of us sat in silence.  Then she said, “Sometimes it’s the ego, the false self that tells us we have to be in charge, that we have to accomplish more.  If we let go of the control then God can show us how to rest.”

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I felt the startle of recognition in what she was saying.  I’d shared with her about my breast cancer but not about being fired from a job.  It had been five years and I’d told only a few people.

Now, I read another female spiritual leader’s words, Christine Valters Painter’s description of how we walk a pilgrim path.  In The Soul of a Pilgrim, she describes the inner pilgrimage descending into our depths to the places where “wounds and shame dwell.”

Looking back to that session with Sharon, I saw how my pride was underneath the need to feel competent.  Being fired had wounded my confidence and left me feeling ashamed. Paintner points out that we need to “retrieve these lost parts and welcome them back into the wholeness of our being.”

Years after that retreat at Edisto Island, I finally recognized how deeply I’d buried my shame.  Last summer in the quiet of the kitchen at Artcroft in Kentucky, I worked on my memoir, Saved by Sedona.  It occurred to me, that I’d written about cancer but not about my toxic job.  I’d been submerged in it a year before I was diagnosed and at times the job was worse than cancer.

That still small voice of God within me said, “You need to go back and tell the whole truth.”

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My kitchen table that became my writer’s desk

While I rewrote the chapters, I experienced the painful cleaning out of that festered wound, writing through tears of anger and sadness.  Gradually, I was able to forgive myself for my part of the problem and be thankful for the good that came from that job.

Now, I go back and mentally trace my steps to the center of the labyrinth and remember the leaf.  I marvel at what a simple path of stones and shells, along with the intention of traveling to the depths of those inner hidden places, can do to bring light to my journey.

How about you?

Have you found walking a labyrinth or another spiritual practice that has helped you travel to the depths on an internal pilgrimage?

How have you used what was revealed to you?

Is there a spiritual practice that you would like to incorporate into your life?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Thin Veil

On a chilly day in early April, we ate lunch together on the Duke University campus.  Carol, Cathy, and I were all cancer survivors and now, Relay for Life team members for the Congregation at Duke Chapel.  I told them my plans to take a pilgrimage to Iona, Scotland.

“The veil is thin there,” Cathy told me.  She went on to describe this veil as the place between life on earth and the life that awaits.  She’d been present in that space when she sat with critically ill hospital patients who were near death.

Later, I read about that thin place in my book, Iona: A Pilgrim’s Guide by Peter W. Millar.  He says that Rev. George MacLeod, the founder of the ecumenical Christian community of Iona, saw the patterns of weaving vines in Celtic crosses pointing to the intertwining of heaven and earth.   Rev. MacLeod said that Iona itself was a ‘thin place’ where the material and spiritual came close to each other.

 

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I remember experiencing that kind of space when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Having a potentially fatal illness, makes you look more closely at life on earth and life beyond death.  Later, when the crisis had passed, I wished I could stay in that ‘thin space’ in order to keep a proper perspective on life.  I wonder how I’ll experience this at Iona.

Part of me keeps away from any space that’s in between.  Uncertainty raises my anxiety and causes me to feel a bit off-kilter.  When people say of faith, to “live into the mystery” I’m not sure how to do that.  Don’t we all spend our days trying to be more certain?

My solo journeys start with a feeling of stepping into the unknown.  I remember when I traveled to the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington State.  I chose that destination after I was mesmerized by the movie setting for Snow Falling on Cedars.  Was it foolish to take a trip across the country based on what could be whimsy?

I stayed in Friday Harbor and took the ferry to Orcas Island to hike up Mt. Constitution.  The path coursed through a forest that looked like the one in the movie.  Climbing that mountain gave me time to feel God’s presence and think about the path of my life.

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The next day, I took a ferry to Victoria Island, Canada and visited Craigdarroch Castle.  I watched the full moon shine down on the roof with its angles and turrets.  A security guard standing nearby asked me where I was from and how I’d chosen to travel there.  I told him about my solo journeys then asked where he was from, curious because his accent sounded Scottish.

“Well, it’s a long story,” he said.  “Twenty years ago my life turned around when I became a Christian.  I came here from Nova Scotia to make amends with my Dad.”  He went on to say his father died not long after that.

“I’m a Christian, too,” I said.

“I know you are,” he said.  “It’s no accident that you’re here.”

That ‘divine appointment’ made me feel that I was on a path meant for me, that it wasn’t just whimsy.  Now, as I prepare for my trip to Scotland, I’ve been reading the history of the Highland Clearances, how folks were forced off their land and out of the country.  Nova Scotia and North Carolina received some of those immigrants.  I may share a heritage with that security guard whom I met nine years ago.

That ‘thin veil’ of Iona awaits.  I wonder what discoveries I’ll make in that place, what divine appointments there’ll be with the people in my path.

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altar for my Iona journey

What about you?

Has there been a time in your life when you’ve experienced that ‘thin place’ between earth and heaven?

How did that experience impact your life?

Have you stepped out into the unknown and later discovered you were on your unique path?

Packing Grandma for Pilgrimage

When I was a girl, my only grandparent was Ola Gilchrist Smith who was my mother’s mother.  She lived on a farm about twenty miles from my house and was a pillar of her small church– Cedar Rock Presbyterian in Harnett County, North Carolina.  There are lots of Presbyterian churches in that area where Highland Scots settled after they entered the state via the Cape Fear River in the mid-seventeen-hundreds.

We spent many Sunday afternoons with Grandma.  Her home was simple with a combination family room-dining room that was furnished with rockers and hardback chairs.  The room was decorated with family pictures, bric-a-brac, and a map of The Holy Land pinned to the wall  She often read her Bible and taught Sunday School Classes and Bible studies.  Grandma was a natural teacher.

When we visited, she sat in her rocker and looked like an old Granny, not like the grandmothers of today.  She was always glad to see you and conversations with her never felt superficial.  Grandma liked to pose a question and let you sit with it.  She’d say, “Now, Connie, what do you think . . . and then ask about a situation, a portion of scripture, or whatever she deemed important at that moment.

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There was one question I remember asking her.

“Grandma, if you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be?”

She didn’t take long to respond.

“I’d go to The Holy Land,” she said, “so I could walk in the steps of Jesus.”

I don’t know if Grandma thought of that as going on pilgrimage.  She never took that trip to The Holy Land, but years later, my mother did.  I wonder if Mama thought about Grandma’s desire to go and if Mama felt she was going there for her mother, too?

On my ninth birthday, Grandma gave me my first diary.  How I treasured that little book with a lock.  I began my practice of journaling, going between printing and my first awkward attempts at cursive.  I felt like Grandma validated my thoughts and my writing in choosing that gift.

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the treasured gift from Grandma

In thinking about what I need to pack for my upcoming pilgrimage to Iona, I look again to Christine Valters Paintner’s words in The Soul of a Pilgrim.  She speaks of Jesus going into the desert on a pilgrimage where wild beasts and angels are with him.  Paintner calls on her ancestors to assist her on pilgrimages, as saints who travel beside her offering wisdom.  When I think of Grandma accompanying me on the journey, I think of how she planted the seed of interest to go to Scotland by telling me of our Scotch ancestry.  I’ve discovered that her maiden name, Gilchrist, means “servant of Christ” in Gaelic– which she truly was.

My Info sheet for the Abbey states I should bring a Torch as there are no street lights on Iona and I’ll need it for leaving the dormitory at night.  At first, I had the image of fire from a tiki torch and then it came to me, “Oh, they mean a flashlight.”  I put one on my stack of things to pack and decided that a lighted candle will be the third item for my altar.

Grandma lived by Psalm 119:105 (KJV), “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”  The candle will be a reminder of the light Grandma provided and how that path is leading me to Iona.

 

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What about you?

Is there an ancestor you carry with you on your pilgrimage?  What wisdom do they provide along the way?

How has their life helped prepare you for the journey?

How will you pay tribute to them when you reach your destination?

Traveling Light

Before my journey to Iona, I’ll spend time traveling with my husband, David.  Our trip together will celebrate being a couple for forty years– thirty-nine of those married. When I take the train from Edinburgh west to Oban, he’ll head to the airport for his flight home.   In a way, I’ll be packing for two trips; what we’ll need for cities and day tours, and what I’ll require for the changing weather of the Hebrides.  From reading travel blogs, researching average temps and rainfall, and talking to people, the advice I’ve received is twofold: wear layers and pack light.

One of the goals of a pilgrim is to travel light.  Pilgrimage is a metaphor for life—we don’t want to carry things that weigh us down.  I’ve certainly been guilty of packing too much on many of my previous journeys.  Sometimes that’s made me more tired and frazzled—trying to keep up with so many items, cluttering my mind and my travel space.  This has been true in my daily life when I’ve taken on too much and eventually felt it was a heavy burden.

 

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I want to be more intentional this time and thoughtfully choose what I’ll carry.  In reading Christine Valters Paintner’s The Soul of a Pilgrim, she points out that in the preparation for pilgrimage there is much letting go that needs to happen.  This is true for choices about tangible items we pack as well as attitudes, beliefs, expectations, and stories we tell ourselves about the journey.  It’s easier to identify our patterns of packing too many clothes than our attitudes we cram into hidden pockets.

Part of my preparation will be self-searching to discover what those attitudes might be.  I know that because of my strong imagination, I sometimes think I know more about a place than I do.  My tendency is to be so excited about an upcoming trip that I overlook the inevitable travel challenges.  Or I could be disappointed because what I’ve seen in movies, read in books, or in posts on social media looks better than what I experience.  It’s hard to go on a milestone trip without high expectations.

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London, one of the cities David and I will visit

When we set off on a pilgrimage, we don’t know what we’ll discover.  While the first portion of my trip will not be solo, it’ll be with David, it will be part of the pilgrimage, too.  For many years, a symbol that has been used to represent the pilgrim’s journey is the scallop shell.  In ancient cultures, these shells had practical uses for the traveler as a drinking cup or bowl.  The shell is a rich symbol with its grooves that represent different journeys we take but we all come to the same place.  David and I will be journeying together to a new place with new experiences, then my journey will continue on to Iona.  When we return to North Carolina, we’ll have a new awareness of what home really means.  In pilgrimage, we’re called away and then return to realize that all the while we were traveling to our interior home, which was with us all the time.

To my altar with the Celtic cross, I’ll add a scallop shell.  It will remind me of this journey and what I discover along the way and what I’ll find when I return home.

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Scallop shells as symbols of Pilgrimage

 

 

How about you?

What items do you need to let go of, tangible and intangible, on your present journey?

What steps can you take toward making your burden light?

How is the scallop shell a symbol for your pilgrimage?

 

Pilgrimage: Invitation to the Unknown

Pilgrimage is an invitation to the unknown.  This year on my solo journey to Iona, Scotland, I’ll be going to an ancient pilgrimage site.  I’ve reserved my week at the Abbey where I’ll live in an international community of staff and guests.  My information sheet gives me some idea of what it’ll be like; it’s not a retreat with lecturers, or a week of serious-minded conferences with endless discussions (thank goodness!), not a center with meals provided by invisible hands.  We’ll all help in the chores of chopping vegetables, cleaning toilets, washing up and setting tables (sounds like home!).

There’ll be discussions around our theme for the week, “The Pilgrimage of Life.”  These will be led by Alistair McIntosh from Glasgow, originally from the isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.

Services will be held in the Abbey church throughout the week and sometimes guests are invited to take part in preparing and leading services.  There are evening social events as a time of enjoyment and to use whatever talents guests have—and evidently everybody has some talent (hope this won’t be embarrassing!).

Every Tuesday there’s an organized pilgrimage of a seven-mile all day hike around the island (proper walking boots with good ankle support, and waterproofs, are essential!)

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Wonder what I’ll discover that week, I think to myself, after reading the information sheet, my first glimpse into being one of the guests.

I know that like previous pilgrimages, it will be a physical journey to a new place, and more importantly, an internal journey to what’s inside of me.  This year, I’ll take my first solo journey outside of North America.  Along with the other guests and staff, I’ll be in a covenant to live together as a community.  My previous journeys have prepared me for Iona.

Living in a community is about sacrificing for the good of the whole.  I’ve stayed in hostels where we shared food, helped each other find needed gear, and gave fellow travelers advice to smooth the journey.  We do that in our home communities—without taking a trip away, by working together in soup kitchens, letting go of petty complaints to make a more peaceful environment, and overlooking differences in political opinions in order to honor our relationships.

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Staying in hostels has helped prepare me for Iona.

We can travel to a community that’s foreign to us— by going to another country or by crossing the divide of our city, getting to know those we’ve been separated from by race, affluence, and opportunity.  Either way, God can work in our lives to give us awareness of what that physical place is like, whether it’s the capricious weather changes of the Hebrides, or seeing our city from a different vantage point.

To prepare my heart for this pilgrimage, I’ll use Christine Valters Paintner’s suggestion in The Soul of a Pilgrim and create a space in my home as a retreat area– a special place of prayer.  This space will be dedicated to the journey ahead.  We can all do this, whether it’s for the journey into each day or for a pilgrimage to a faraway place.  She suggests placing a meaningful symbol or two on the altar of the retreat area.

On my altar, I’ll place a copper Celtic cross that I purchased at the gift store of the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona.  It reminds me of my first pilgrimage and how I felt grounded in God’s presence at that time of upheaval in my life.  I remember lighting candles and saying prayers for my future in the quiet space of that magnificient chapel.  Now, sixteen years later and preparing for my fourteenth journey, I’ll pray for Iona.  How will I experience God’s call in that unfamiliar Celtic community founded by an Irish monk?  I’ll see as I take each step along this pilgrim path.

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How about you?

Are you being called to a pilgrimage in your community or in a faraway place?

How can you create a retreat space where you can prepare for that journey?

What meaningful symbols will you place on your altar?

Scotland Calling

In one month, I’ll take off on my yearly solo journey.  This time Scotland is calling me to the ancient and sacred island of Iona located in the Inner Hebrides.  Ten years ago, the seed was planted when I was in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.  Riding the island shuttle bus, I met a man from Glasgow and we had an interesting conversation about country music and Scotch Presbyterians.  He described the stunning beauty of the remote islands of the Hebrides, and the deep-rooted faith of his sister and others who lived there.  Later, I said to myself, “Maybe I’ll go there on a journey some day.”

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The shores of Iona in the Inner Hebrides, Scotland

Yearly solo journeys have become intentional pilgrimages for me.  They started with that serendipitous trip to Sedona that interrupted my struggle with the toxic job and breast cancer.  During that time, I experienced the freedom and transformation of moving to God’s spirit in an unfamiliar place that led me to a deeper knowledge of myself.

Later, I landed on the right book at the right time when I discovered Phil Cousineau’s work, The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred.  I learned that my journey had the elements of a pilgrimage.  Cousineau taught me, that even travel through your day if experienced with an intentional focus, can be a pilgrimage or “a transformative journey to a sacred center.”  We don’t need a passport for that. 

Recently, I found Christine Valters Paintner’s book, The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within.  In preparing for Iona, I’m using these steps and will build them into my upcoming posts.  While my journey is intentional, Paintner points out that there are also unintentional pilgrimages.  We all have experience with journeys we would not choose, like cancer or other illnesses, divorce, care of an ailing parent– just to name a few.  While we don’t intentionally choose those paths, we do make the choice of how we walk them, whether they’re meaningful and soulful journeys or times of bitterness and unmet longing.

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The Right Books at the Right Time

Our family has had the unintentional pilgrimage of journeying through our mother’s dementia.  We’ve experienced seasons of grief in our slow loss of her former self, and have been surprised by joy in new ways of knowing her.  I’ve seen aspects of myself in responding to Mama’s changes, that have been both pleasing and disappointing.  It has truly been a journey into the unknown, a foreign land where you walk by faith and not by sight, never knowing what is just around the bend.  The only thing I’m certain of is that God has been faithful each step of the way.  We’ve had people in our path that have helped us and we’ve seen Mama bring light to others through her sweet smile and loving presence.

If she could understand that I’m preparing for Scotland, she’d be excited– except for the part about me going solo.

Years ago when I shared my plans to travel to Sedona, she asked, “Who’s going with you?”  When I said that I was traveling by myself, she responded, “It’s not safe for a woman to travel alone.”

I saw that determined, I’m-your-Mama look on her face and knew there was only one way to settle this.

“I won’t be alone,” I said.  “God will be with me.”

She was quiet for a moment, then responded, “Well, you’ll be in the best of hands.  But be careful.”

I’ll continue to prepare for the pilgrimage to Iona, knowing I’ll have to leave Mama behind.  She’ll be in the best of hands.  And so will I.

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Mama in her journey at Parkview

How about you?

Are you feeling the call to take a journey?  How can your trip become a pilgrimage?

Is there an unintentional journey that you’re on that’s making you feel trapped and bitter?  Is there a way to reframe this experience and make it more meaningful and soulful?

It’s About the Future

I sat on a rock overlooking the Great Smoky Mountains on that Sunday morning in September.  In the stillness that was shrouded in fog, I felt the burden of trudging through cancer treatment and my toxic job.  I prayed for God to lift me out of that pit, and waited for some sign that God was listening.  Eventually, the answer came in that ‘still small voice’ in the words, “It’s About the Future.”

I continued sitting there, wondering what this message meant for me.  I thought about the future when I was first diagnosed, asking God to spare my life.  With my aggressive treatment regimen, my oncologist was confident that I’d be okay—and I believed him.  But where I mired down, was in feeling that my future would continue as daily struggle with my health and my career.  It was hard to look beyond my present.  How could I see the future when I was consumed with dread?

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How could I see the future when I was consumed with dread?

The answer didn’t come that morning on the mountain.  In fact, that message became a question that stayed with me; what is it you want me to see in the future, God?  There was a sense that I wasn’t to stay in my present state of anxiety.  While that conversation with God didn’t change the fact that I had to return home to chemo and work, I did feel lighter—like God was starting to pull me up from the pit.

I continued to look for the meaning to be revealed.  It seemed that God was showing me to avoid getting bogged down in the negative climate at work.   It was a temporary place. I was to do my best while I was there, but eventually I’d move on.  With my cancer regimen, I should focus on the treatment in front of me, engaging with the infusion staff and the family and friends who accompanied me.  I would be present to the moment but moving toward the future.

By April I’d finished treatment.  I was tired from the radiation, but now I could fly to a research meeting in Arizona.  Afterwards I took my journey to Sedona then traveled on to the Grand Canyon.  That evening, I watched the sun setting over the South Rim and was reminded of that morning in the Smokies.

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Watching a hawk flying near the canyon walls, I remembered the message, It’s about the Future, and this time there was more:  Don’t be weighed down by what’s happening now.  Get through today but look ahead to the future I’m providing for you.

I remembered Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Hope and a Future.  This was a promise of God’s faithfulness to see me through, to pull me from the pit and place my feet on a solid rock.  I couldn’t see the future God had for me, but I did feel assured with that promise.

Eventually, a way was provided from that job to one in a healthy environment.  The cancer treatment was successful and I’ve had years of being cancer free.  There have been times I’ve gotten bogged down again, but I hear that same message and know to keep moving.  Those steps forward have led me to solo journeys that have become pilgrimages for my soul.

Years later, in my future, I sat on the banks of Lake Champlain in Vermont and remembered that message.  The answer had now come to me fully;  Stay in God’s presence each moment and He will lead you to the Future, one that is filled with Hope.

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What about you?

Have you had times of being so weighed down in struggle you couldn’t see a hopeful future?

How could you find your way to greater hope?

What resources are available to help you when you feel overwhelmed?

 

Frontier of Silence

Last summer I took my solo journey to Kentucky where I had a two-week writer’s residency at Artcroft.  It was very quiet there in the countryside without the noise of television, wi-fi, or conversation– since there was no other artist joining me.  The only interruption to the silence was an occasional bird call, mooing cow, or vehicle passing by on the dirt road outside my gatehouse.

The days I stayed in to write instead of driving to the Paris-Bourbon library, I felt myself slow down to the pace of silence.  It reminded me of a word I first learned when I read the book When the Heart Waits by Sue Monk Kidd.  In her story, she tells of her season of waiting– as if she was in a cocoon and knew she couldn’t rush the process.  She learns from her mentor, Dr. Beatrice Bruteau, the meaning of the word entrainment.

“It’s the phenomenon of two rhythmic beings gradually altering their movements until they’re moving together in the same rhythm,” Dr. Bruteau tells her and gives examples of pendulums, crickets, and people talking.  “We tend to align ourselves with the rhythm and pace around us.”

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We align ourselves with the rhythm and pace around us.

I felt that Dr. Bruteau became my mentor, too, as I read that book and considered the frenetic pace of my life.  As a nurse in a middle school, I worked in an environment of constant adolescent chatter, as well as staff and students rushing about the chaotic hallways.  When I left work, I played music on my drive.  Once home, I often turned on the television to watch the news or listen to some show while cooking dinner.  Sometimes on my evening walks, I made phone calls.

I keep myself immersed in noise, I realized.  No wonder the quiet of my new Kentucky home was so unfamiliar.  At first, I was a bit restless, wanting some background music to keep me from feeling unsettled and alone.  It reminded me of the awkwardness I experienced when I began taking solo journeys.  Over time, with each successful trip completed, the unfamiliar became familiar and even comfortable.  Silence could be the same way.

Once I let go of my restlessness, I saw that time seemed to expand when you allowed the day to be quiet.  I paid attention to nature’s cycle with the sun rising and setting, and the moon announcing the end to my day’s labor.  I could dive deeper into writing my memoir without distracting sounds.  Years before when in college, I discovered that I studied most efficiently with better recall when isolated in a library study carrel.  All these years later and I was rediscovering the benefit of solitude and silence.

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My new Kentucky home

During my stay at Artcroft, I grew more comfortable with silence.  I wasn’t startled by the sounds of animals or the occasional car traveling past my home that interrupted that still space.  The days when I used the library wi-fi, I noticed that compared to the house, the library was almost noisy.

When I traveled back to North Carolina, I realized that the boon, or blessing that I returned with, was a new capacity for silence.  I planned to be more intentional in how I created the space around me.  It took going west to find a land of silence and I wanted to make that discovery a part of every day of my life.

What about you?

Do you keep yourself immersed in noise?

How would it impact your life to have more silence in your day?

What are ways you could take control in creating a more quiet environment?