Three Great Gifts

One of the surprises for me of Going Social are the connections I’ve made with people and organizations around the world. After one of my post concerning my journey with breast cancer, an organization in the United Kingdom, Cancer Care Parcel messaged me and invited me to do a guest blog post. Looking at their site, I saw they offered a service for people wanting to buy just the right present for someone going through treatment. Cancer Care Parcel provided a community of support beyond the gifts they were selling. What a great service.

In thinking about what I’d write for them, I considered all the gifts I was given over my eight months of cancer treatment that is now eighteen years ago. How could I represent so many kindnesses in one blog post?

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After pondering this for a while, it came down to three types of gifts that represented the whole: the gift of time and being present during a difficult day, permission and the means to purchase myself a gift, written words in cards that were just enough hope for the moment.

I hope you’ll read about those specific gifts at the link posted below, and spend some time browsing the resources of Cancer Care Parcel. Perhaps it will help you with what to get someone special on your list.

Also, please know that my readers are a gift to me, providing support and encouragement that keeps me writing, that keeps me crafting stories.

Blessings to all of you at this special time of year.

https://cancercareparcel.co.uk/breast-cancer-suhrvivor-gifts/

 

How About You?

What are some of the gifts you’ve received that made an impact on your life?

Who needs a gift from you at this difficult time in their life?

Related Blog post

Surprised by #GoingSocial

 

 

 

Gather Yourself: Lessons in Scotland

After all the dreaming, planning, and praying, I’m now at the threshold of Iona,” I wrote in my journal a year ago as I looked across the white-capped-waters of the sound toward the stone buildings of the Abbey. I’d made it to the village of Fionnphort in the Inner Hebrides, where I’d booked a room for two nights at the Seaview Bed and Breakfast, to rest and prepare for my week living at Iona Abbey. It was my solo journey, my yearly spiritual pilgrimage, but this time, it was to a historic pilgrimage site, my first trip to Scotland.

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Seaview Bed and Breakfast, Mull, Scotland

I was glad that after my arrival on Thursday afternoon, I would have until Saturday at 3:00 before I would join the forty others from around the world for our week together. We would live in that faith-seeking community and explore The Pilgrimage of Life– our theme for the week with our leader, Alistair McIntosh, a native of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.

Any doubt about whether I’d selected the best lodging was immediately dismissed when I met John and Jane Noddings, the owners and hosts at the B & B. John, who referred to himself as the ‘chatty’ one, showed me around and introduced me to Jane, who was in the kitchen cooking dinner.

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John, the ‘chatty’ one

That first night, I was so tired and her meal of lamb and potatoes nourished me and warmed the chill that had stayed with me since the ferry. John, who’d formerly been a fisherman, gave me helpful information to make my stay easier– like how the strong currents could shut down the ferry to Iona that was just a ten-minute trip across the sound.

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It was as delicious as it looks!

That first meal, I had the dining room to myself as the other guests had not arrived. How I savored those bites, looking out across the water, watching the vanishing light over Iona. I wasn’t able to post my pictures last year because I had so many problems getting wifi in that remote area. But I’ll make up for it now and share them with you.

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It was nice to sit in the quiet. I’d just come from Edinburgh where my husband and I had finished our trip together that had included Paris, London, and a day trip into the Scottish Highlands. Seaview B & B provided me a place to restore my energy before becoming part of a group for a week. It would give me time to gather myself, to pull in before I spread out– experiencing the dynamic growth of living and learning from a new community.

Looking back, that was a perfect plan.

How many other times in my life should I have recognized the need to fuel up, to allow for an intentional transition in order to be ready for what was ahead?

My usual practice was to keep going and not slow down. But having that time to see the threshold, that place of crossing from what is known to the unknown–like what has been experienced by pilgrims over the ages, helped me to mentally, physically, and emotionally prepare for that week that was life-changing.

After dinner those evenings at Fionnphort, I walked around the village.  How peaceful it was in the quiet of that small community on the western shores of Scotland.

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On the banks of Fionnphort

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View of ferry dock at Fionnphort

On my ferry ride from Oban to Craignure, where I then boarded a bus like the red one in the photo, I decided to make my first video while on a solo journey. But when the time came to post it, I chickened out, always a bit self-conscious about being filmed, about the sound of my own voice. Well, it’s time to let go of that.

While the day was sunny, I was not use to the dampness and wind, that I would learn was ever-present on the coast of Scotland. By the end of my ferry ride, I was chilly in spite of my layers of clothing. Seeing this video, lets me relive that Thursday afternoon last September.

 

As I anticipated joining the group on that Saturday, several questions pressed in on me. I wrote them in my journal:  “What will it be like to live in a community for a week? How will I fit in? How will I manage without an ‘escape route’ like I have with my trips in the States?”

I waited and prayed on the banks of Fionnphort and asked God to bless me and the people in my path in the week ahead.

Next time, I’ll tell you how God answered my prayer, how He Heard My Voice.

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How about You?

What times in your life have you been at the threshold of a life-changing event?

Were you able to take the time to Gather Yourself, to pull in and fuel up, allowing for an intentional transition so you would be ready to receive the benefits of what was ahead?

Posts from the trip before I arrived at Iona

Scotland Calling

Paris Can’t Wait

Tea at Two

 

 

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?”

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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.

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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.

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How About You?

What is your moving question?

How can you be open to the answers that surface?

 

 

 

 

Be Present Now

The last week of that school year, I was standing in the grocery check-out, making my final purchase of health room supplies when I received a call from my younger sister.  Our almost ninety-year-old mother was in the Emergency Room of our hometown hospital, being admitted for an acute illness.   We’d never seen Mama so sick.  Over the next weeks, she gradually pulled through after that initial hospitalization followed by a transfer to the medical center at UNC hospital.

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By that point in mid-June, I was always exhausted from the school year and ready for our two-month summer break.  Instead of finally being at home, I was sitting by my mother’s bed at UNC, watching her sleep.  I’d stay all day then leave the hospital exhausted, saying to myself, “How can watching someone sleep be so tiring?”

I felt restless with having to be in the confinement of the hospital room when I was ready to be free for the summer, outside enjoying the June weather since I didn’t have to be in the tiny windowless box that was my school office.

In the midst of my frustration, it was as if the still small voice of God said, “Just be here right now.  You don’t need to be anywhere else.”  There is nothing more important than sitting by your mother’s bed, being that familiar face when she wakes from her confused sleep.

In prior situations when I was forced to be in a place I wanted to flee, I would use my familiar coping skill of daydreaming—zoning out.  I would go some other place in my head if I couldn’t in my body.  But somehow, this time I felt like I needed to be ‘here’ with not just my body, but also my mind.  Be totally present.

I found myself praying through my struggle with how to do that.  When my mind would start to slip away, I’d catch myself and bring my attention back into the room.  I’d be more observant of how Mama slept– did she favor sleeping on one side more than the other?  She often talked in her sleep and I tried to imagine who she was talking to in those medicated dreams, listening for her tone of voice, the mood she seemed to be in when she awoke.

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My son, Ross, visiting Grandma

Fortunately, Mama recovered from that long summer of illness.  I’ve often thought about God’s instruction to just be present—to bring my whole self to the person in front of me—no matter the situation.  It has occurred to me that sometimes, I want to escape because I feel responsible, especially as a nurse, for fixing the problem—whether it’s a physical illness or emotional upset.

And what if I can’t.  What if no matter what I do, the problem remains.

I come back to Mama’s hospital room.  My purpose being there wasn’t to fix the problem but to be with her through it; for her to know that she wasn’t alone.  I wasn’t going anywhere, in my body or my mind.  We were in it together.

Recently, I have felt that same tension of wanting to be with people who are dear, through their emotional pain, but also wanting to escape to a brighter place.  I hear God’s voice to “Be Present Now” and know that it’s not up to me to fix things.  What is up to me is to offer all of myself, at that moment, only choosing to be totally with them so they will realize they are not alone, that they have a familiar face to wake up to.

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Mama and Me, Thankful for her recovery

What about you?

Are there ways that you try to escape from being totally present with another person, especially in difficult situations?

How can you bring your total self to be present with that person?

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?

Paris Can’t Wait

Paris Can’t Wait.  That’s what my friend, Jennifer, named the Pinterest board she created for me.  Madame Sparrow has been my friend for sixteen years since I met her at our middle school.  She had lived in France for twelve years and taught French to our middle schoolers.  Over the past months she’s been educating me and inspiring me.  Now it’s time for the student to use what the teacher has given her.

My husband, David, and I make it to our hotel in a dazed state, mostly unable to sleep on the flight.  I’m glad he’s with me for this leg of my journey, not only for time together but for the security of not traveling alone.  David’s been brushing up on French phrases, and I see his pleasure at reviving his language skill from years ago, a stellar French student in college.  We set out in search of strong coffee and fresh air.

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a much needed expresso

I’ve had a feeling, the ‘still small voice of God’ speaking to me that has said to be patient, present, and to just absorb what’s going on.  I want to enjoy being with my husband, and I want him to enjoy France.  There’s always a pressure when you go to a new place to cram in too much activity.  I’ll let him take the lead now, and try to curb my tendency to just take off.

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David considering dinner options

We start out in the neighborhoods near our hotel.  I find it hard to focus on following the map because I’m awestruck by the beautiful architecture, the ancient buildings that are dappled in early afternoon light.  We make several navigational errors trying to find Luxemburg Gardens and right when we find the entrance, David has a call from a colleague.  He moves to a spot under the trees to talk while I admire a statue flanked by flowers.  I think to myself,  Really, you can’t leave him alone.  He’s a psychologist and in our thirty-nine years of marriage work calls have frequently interrupted our time.  I feel my irritation rise and then I remember– Stay present, be patient.

The call doesn’t take a long time.  One of the adolescents he works with had to be seen for an emergency evaluation by the colleague.  He’s very conscientious, so responsible.  Part of the reason I married him.

The gardens are lovely in the mid-afternoon light.  So many statues with plantings in multiple hues and textures that enhance the total picture.  We stroll up and down the neighborhoods with buildings that have tall shuttered windows and interesting balconies.  We hear tolling of bells and realize we’ve made it to the Cathedral of Notre Dame.  We enter the worship area to hear the mass in French.  While I don’t understand the words, it’s lovely to hear the passionate words flow beautifully in the native tongue.

We’re both tired with aching feet from concrete and cobblestones.  I’m ready to eat and to try a cafe’ near the hotel.  But David wants to stop in a shop in the Latin Quarter to find a beret.  Do we have to do this now, I think, my hunger alarm sounding and my patience used up.  He tells me a man who runs their office cleaning service has asked him to find a navy beret, size large.  David searches that store and another and finds a beret.  He is happy that his quest has been satisfied and I am happy that I have remembered David’s kind and generous heart.

I have benefitted from Madame Sparrow’s introduction to Paris, and from the reminders on this journey with my husband of some of the reasons I fell in love with him forty years ago.

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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?