Fog Gets in Your Eyes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What a Difference a Day Made

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

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

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

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

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What about you?

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

How did you handle your frustration with yourself?

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

Sinners and Saints

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How About You?

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

What has resulted from hanging on to them?

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

Reference:

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

 

Flow of Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How About You?

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

How was the experience the second time around?

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

 

 

Then Sings My Soul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What about You?

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

What are the words of your song?

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

A Day in the Highlands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Area of the massacre of Glencoe

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

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

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

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

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

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Foggy day in the Highlands

 

What about you?

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

How did the outcome unfold?

What did you glean from that experience?

Bringing Home the Boon

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

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

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

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My two-week home at Artcroft in Kentucky

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

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

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

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

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

What about you?

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

What are indicators that your life is out of balance?

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

 

Fall Tapestry

October is a month of fall festivals and breast cancer awareness.  Yesterday, both came together when I attended the Big Foot Festival near my hometown of Sanford.  I don’t know a lot about Big Foot, but I went to support my friend, Donna, who’d organized the event as a fund raiser for clean water efforts.  Walking along the food vendors, I spotted a woman in a pink baseball cap with shiny rhinestones forming a breast cancer ribbon.  Sometimes I hold back, not sure if that person wants to share, but her cap was so bold that I felt it was an invitation.

She told me about her shock when an Emergency Room doctor abruptly announced that her back pain was caused by cancer.  Through tears she relived hearing the “C word” and later learning that hers was Stage IV.  Soon she added, “God is seeing me through and I’ve been able to help others, especially women who’re now more aware.”

“I’ve had breast cancer, too,” I said.  “Now it’s been seventeen years as a survivor.”

“Thanks for telling me,” she responded.  “Some days you just need to hear that.

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She told me of her shock at hearing the “C word”

She recalled how she’d been supported by her community: cards, meals, gifts.  Her face brightened as she told me about her plans for the future.

“That’s right, look toward the future,” I encouraged her.  “While you’re taking the needed treatment steps, you’re moving on to the things that you desire.”

We hugged goodbye.  I added her to the women in my breast cancer tree, the one I pass on my morning walks that reminds me to hold them up to the light of prayer.

I took advantage of the food vendors—eating all those fair-like delicacies; hotdog with mustard, chili, and slaw; quesadillas with pork; Big Foot sugar cookies; mango and strawberry shaved ice.  Saturday was no time to stick to a healthy diet.  Eating with Donna’s family and friends, we sat in lawn chairs around her booth of merchandise, including tee shirts she designed, furry face masks of wee Big Foots, back scratchers of the mysterious creature’s paws.  How nice it was to be grafted into this group, my friend the central figure who pulled us together.

I saw a couple of women I hadn’t seen in years, one telling me I should spend more time in my hometown.  The other woman’s three children were contestants in the Big Foot hollering contest.  It occurred to me how seldom I participated in such community events—usually too busy doing something purposeful, goal-directed.  How relaxing it was to just move in the flow of this festival, no expectations, no responsibilities—just enjoying the afternoon.

As the sun was setting, casting that gloaming light over the Deep River, we listened to people tell stories of their encounters with Big Foot.  I thought back to my experiences in Scotland.  Just a few weeks before I was riding a boat out into Loch Ness, listening to accounts of Nessie in the seven- hundred- foot water.  I could see Alistair, our retreat leader in Iona, lying down on the hill of the fairies and telling about Celtic beliefs.  If felt like Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, and Celtic fairies were now being joined.

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The Deep River reminded me of the deep waters of Loch Ness

Watching the light disappear, I noticed the foundation of the bridge over the river was made of stone.  That’s like so many buildings in Scotland, I thought. The path that I’m called to follow is the same in Sanford as Scotland; be present, be myself as I encounter the people in my path.  Today there had been the woman with breast cancer, my widening circle who shared Donna’s generous friendship, and those who’d experienced realms unfamiliar to me.  All had woven a beautiful tapestry on a fall day.

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What about you?

In what ways have you seen your call in life being expressed the same way while in different places?

How can you live into that this day?

What new threads do you see in the tapestry that is your life?

Southern Drawl

I’ve encountered reactions to my Southern accent on my journeys outside the Southeast.  But I didn’t expect to when I traveled to Iona.  In an international place, I assume there’ll be many accents so that none will stand out.  That’s what I’d experienced on my trips to New York City –so many foreign tongues that mine was just one more.  That wasn’t the case at Iona.

On our first night together, we mingled over cups of tea and oatcakes.  I felt a nudge to talk with a man from Holland who was maybe ten years younger than me.  Once we started talking, he stopped and said, “Your voice, the way you talk, it’s so weird!”

I couldn’t help my knee-jerk reaction, my face responding to his comment, my first time hearing my voice labeled weird.

“I don’t mean that in a bad way,” he said, concerned that he’d offended me.  “It’s just I’ve never heard someone like you before.  Where are you from?”

“North Carolina — in the States.  I’m from the South.  That’s the region where my weird voice is from.”

north-carolina-890632_1280He chuckled then continued telling me about his life for almost an hour.  More conversation followed at points during the week—when we shared our meal duties on the Seal team and walked alongside each other on our island pilgrimage.  That man from Holland wasn’t the only one to react to my accent.  There was the man from Australia.

He was older, attending with his wife as a fiftieth wedding anniversary present.  After several days at Iona, with more conversations in small groups, he talked as easily as his wife.  He made a comment about me being from the South and attempted to imitate me, with what came out as a cowgirl, Wild West type accent.

Really, an Aussie thinking he doesn’t have an accent, I thought.  I laughed at his attempt to sound like me, and let go of my typical embarrassed, pride-hurt response.  I’d decided to just be myself and accept whatever happened at Iona.  That included my ego about being good enough, sophisticated enough, educated enough.  The father-like Aussie was teasing me and by the end of the week, I gave it back.

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Our meeting room

On Wednesday evening by the fire, we shared songs, stories, and other talents.  I read one of my personal essays about taking Mama to eat with her brother.  It’s a bittersweet story, filled with pathos about the changes in Mama from dementia, and joy at the richness of being with family.  After my reading, several people told me how my story had touched their hearts.  One woman, from Oxford, England said that what made the difference was my voice, me reading the story.  The next day, she told me she’d been thinking about places where it might be published and then added, “You should read it on the radio.”

My voice, my Southern accent on the radio, recommended by a woman from Oxford.  My, oh My!

That afternoon, when I went to the nearby hotel to use the Wifi, I ran into the Aussie man and his wife.  He told me he was unclear about the location of my story.  He said he knew it was in the South, and did a bit of a Connie impersonation.  I would miss him when we parted the next day.  I couldn’t resist a comeback. 

After I answered his question with a quick North Carolina geography lesson, I said, “You know, I would have liked to talk with you more this week.  But I just couldn’t understand your accent!”

He and his wife laughed.  I would remember their warm smiles and the weird way they talked, those Aussies in Iona.

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What about you?

In what area of your life do you feel vulnerable?

How are you able to let go of that in order to be open to the experience of that moment?

How would it change your life if you let go of that vulnerability and accepted your whole self?

 

 

 

 

Some of Our People

The last time I took Mama to see her brother, we passed a car pulled over by a state trooper, blue lights flashing.  Mama focused on the loaded down Honda with the officer talking to the driver.   “I hope that’s none of our people in that kind of trouble,” she said.  Our people could have been any of a gazillion cousins in Harnett County.

Mama is like her mother, my Grandma Smith, and has always been very close to her large family and their extended family.  When I was planning my pilgrimage to Iona, I researched my grandmother’s maiden name, Gilchrist.  Not only had I found that it meant servant of Christ (see post, Packing Grandma for Pilgrimage), I learned that name was special to Iona.

Iona possesses the remains of five ancient High Crosses.  Only one, St Martin’s Cross that’s stood for over a thousand years, is complete and in its original site.  According to an internet reference on the Gilchrist surname, there was an inscription on that cross that read, “A prayer for Gilchrist who made this cross.”

Last January when I read that, I was amazed and saw it as another sign that I should journey to Iona.  When I was there, I had my picture taken holding Grandma to the cross that could have been made by our ancestor.

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She would have been pleased by the craftsmanship of the carving; in the center, the Virgin and Child; on the shaft, several Old Testament scenes; the east face, ornamental with prominent jewel-like bosses.  I assume that if there was an inscription about Gilchrist, it had worn off over the years.  I was disappointed.  In my mind’s eye, I’d seen it clearly carved across the base of the cross, but on close examination, there was no such inscription.

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I think about my question of how I would pay tribute to Grandma while I was at Iona.  I remember how she listened and her thoughtful responses.  I hope I did that with my community that week at the Abbey.  One woman that I had some deep conversations with was from Scotland.  She looked like some of Mama’s people—with red hair and fair skin.  She was very friendly and talkative.  I felt like I was at one of Mama’s family reunions, talking with one of her Gilchrist cousins.

During our worship services in the drafty stone chapel, I looked at the windows and thought about all the people who’d journeyed to Iona over the centuries.  Would one of my ancestors have traveled to Iona, set out on a pilgrimage like Grandma wanted to take to the Holy Land?  Probably not, I thought.  They would have likely been crofters or artisans and like Grandma’s farm-girl roots, could’t take time away from the daily chores of life.

Setting out, I didn’t know how I would experience the ‘thin veil’ of Iona, where heaven and earth are close together, a mystical place of pre-Christian fairies and Christian angels.  I didn’t have any mystical experience but rather a strong sense of belonging, of being on the right spiritual path for me in a place that felt like home.

I hope I paid tribute to Grandma by listening to others as she listened to me, that I posed questions in our deep conversations that helped to get at truth.  I believe I took Grandma with me to Iona.  We returned to our homeland and reconnected with ‘some of our people’ on that Scottish isle in a place deeply rooted in faith.

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What about you?

Have you been in a place that felt like you’d arrived home, a place that’s unfamiliar yet very familiar?

In what ways have you seen your ancestors in yourself?

At this point in your life, how would you like to honor your ancestors?

 

 

Catch the Early Ferry

The winds on the western isles of Scotland are relentless.  I viewed their impact on the Sound of Iona from the dining room of Seaview B & B, my accommodations in the village of Fionnphort.  The owner, John, had previously been a fisherman and was expert at judging the wind and the sea.  Knowing I had to check in at the Abbey on the following day he advised me, “I’d catch the early ferry.  They might close it down.”

He was right.  A group of those in our community of forty-one were caught when the ferry stopped after the second run.  They arrived the following day when the ferry re-opened.   At the end of our week, I remembered John’s words when I heard high winds were predicted.  A small group of us walked to the landing through the blowing rain in the early morning darkness instead of waiting until the 9:00 run—that allowed for more sleep, a less rushed breakfast, and lengthier goodbyes.

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Later, when I boarded the noon train in Oban, I saw the empty seats of those that should have been on that second ferry.  I hated it for my new friends—their inconvenience and costs with changing travel plans, and felt grateful for John’s wise counsel that had helped me avoid those complications.

Since childhood, I’ve cut things close in my life, waiting until the last minute in order to accomplish more, seeing that as being efficient.  I’d weed one more row in the garden, do one more load of clothes, add on another household chore—work up until the last minute before leaving for a scheduled activity.  But what I was beginning to see, was that giving myself the space that left room for error, was a more gracious way to live.

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The view of the sound from Seaview B & B

Years ago, when going through radiation treatment, I also found that giving myself more time and space worked to my benefit.  I scheduled the thirty-two treatments in one of the first appointment slots of the day.  I dreaded having to start my morning with the reminded of cancer.  I’d learned from my oncology visits that it helped to ‘pair the bitter with the sweet.’  Following my office visits, I’d do something enjoyable, like go shopping, get a manicure, or have a decadent treat.  What if I applied that same principle to the radiation visits—pair that distasteful daily reminder with something enjoyable?

I decided to arrive for my appointment fifteen minutes early and write.  I never took that time on a usual morning—always too busy getting myself and my family going for the day.  Over those thirty-two mornings, I came into the radiation department equipped with a mug of dark roast and my notebook.  By the end of the sessions, I’d written a short story and reframed the time as something I could partially look forward to– time for me.

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John Noddings, gracious host and weather advisor

Catching the first ferry and getting to radiation early come together for me now.  They are ways of opening up time and space with more grace—not pushing up to the limit with no room to maneuver.

I’ll keep John’s advice, spoken in his lovely Scottish accent, “Catch the Early Ferry” as the voice in my head that reminds me to allow myself enough room for the uncertainty, not knowing if the waters may turn rough and catch me unaware.

What about you?

Do you allow yourself the time and space to live life with grace?

How could you let go of the need to accomplish more and give yourself the extra time that allows for interruptions or delays?

Are there areas of your life where you could pair the bitter with something sweet?