Solo Journey: Dream Destination

In last week’s blog post, I told about how a Literary Agent set me on a Solo Journey of Indie Publishing. I knew my dream destination—publication of my memoir, but I felt hesitant to take the first step forward. Like when I approach my yearly solo journeys– the destination is determined but there is uncertainty with how to start. Before each journey, I feel resistance to crossing the threshold of the safety of the known in order to enter the unknown world.

 With my yearly pilgrimages, I’ve developed a pattern of asking the question, “Where should I go this year, God?” and then wait to see what comes forth. After that, it works best to take some action, even though it might not follow a logical order—just move forward on the path and the clues for what to do next will appear. After meeting with the Literary Agent, I took a couple of weeks to consider things and then decided to hire the professional editor that I met at the conference.

When she sent back my manuscript with her remarks, she started her email with, “Don’t be overwhelmed with all these comments. It’s a lot and more than anyone can handle at once. Just work your way through them one at a time.” She was right; I’d never received editorial notes for 210 pages at one time. At first I said to myself, “I can’t do this.” Her edits came the day we were leaving for the beach. I’d deal with them when we returned.

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Forgetting the edits at Emerald Isle, N.C.

I took the next month to make the needed changes. As an Indie Author, I was the boss and would set my own pace.  Like traveling solo, I had no one else to answer to, no need to negotiate how to approach the journey. Doing the rewrites for my memoir was a big task. There were days I’d say to myself, “Keep your butt in this chair and stick with it.” I’d look out my window and see other people enjoying summer and it felt like I was being forced inside to do my homework. But then I’d remember that I chose this and was intentionally moving forward on the path toward my dream.

Further down that path, it was time to hire a cover design artist. Several people at the conference recommended the company 99designs. You submit your request in the form of starting a contest with their international artist community. After you write your brief telling about your story and give details that will help a designer, you wait for proposals to come in. You have a narrow window of time for giving them feedback, asking for preliminary changes, and deciding on the finalists. I wasn’t sure about the process but it was the best option that I had.

The proposals I received in the first twenty-four hours were disappointing. I wondered if using that company was a mistake. There are times on my trips when I feel uncertain, and at times, foolish, afraid that I’m going to make a mistake, especially when it comes to time and money. But after forty-eight hours, I received two proposals that were much closer to what I had in mind. Over that week, I went back-and-forth with an artist in Madrid. With the time difference between Spain and the East Coast of the U.S., I had to pay close attention to the ticking clock of the contest. There were moments I felt uncomfortable with making such an important decision, since a book jacket helps to show your story and to attract readers. But like working through those edits, I’d think about the options, pray, take a walk and sort through the pros and cons. I called on several people who’ve read my book to weigh in on the proposed jacket.

The main issue came with the image of the woman on the cover—the one depicting me at forty-five sitting by Oak Creek in Sedona. After I’d had the artist change the image several times, I still felt hesitant but couldn’t put my finger on the problem.

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I went to bed knowing I had to give the final okay by the following day. I woke up at 3:30 and the woman’s image– sitting on the rock looking at the water, came to mind. Staring at my alarm clock, it occurred to me what was wrong.

Her hair has to look like post-chemo hair, I thought. The woman’s long hair was what I wished I had back then, but was far from the short, curly locks that grew in after treatment. I couldn’t offend my readers, who like me, didn’t take hair for granted after losing it.

I got out of bed and sent an email to the designer. It would be 8:30 in Madrid and she may have time to make the change while I went back to sleep.

Later that morning, I checked for the artist’s response and felt pleased with her new image, the figure with enough hair to show a woman’s silhouette but not the long hair with a flip that didn’t ring true for my story.

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A portion of the cover of my memoir, He Heard My Voice

My solo journey to my dream destination has taken me on a path through edits, and cover designs and other discoveries. There are more challenges ahead. Like my yearly pilgrimages, I will continue to put one foot in front of the other, uncertain of how to walk each section but depending on God and the people in my path to help me.

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How About You?

What is the Dream Destination for your Solo Journey?

What obstacles or challenges might you encounter?

What supports do you have to help you walk through each section of your journey?

 

Happy Cancerversary!

Cancerversary is a ‘milestone defined by you’ according to the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship #cancerversary.  That’s what June 22 is when I celebrate my survivorship from triple-negative breast cancer diagnosed in 2000. While my situation was cancer, your life-changing event may have been divorce, sobriety, or some other thing that irrevocably altered your life. Each of us has a unique journey and I hope that you can look back on the twists and turns in yours as I share those from mine.

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 I consider the eighteen years since my diagnosis and think about the path my life has taken.  I remember that as we approached 2000, there was a lot of Y2K hype that was focused on computer issues, and by some, was generalized to other areas. But as my mother-in-law, Mary Dell, later said, for our family it lived up to the hype.  In January of that year, my father-in-law, who’d already been homebound on a ventilator for almost ten years, was diagnosed with cancer that originated in his lungs and had spread to his bones. He died on March 28thon his 71stbirthday. Then on June 22cnd, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, that was followed by eight months of treatment that included surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation– lasting through the rest of 2000 to the end of February 2001.

Recently, I was listening to a podcast for writers that asked what your goals are for the next decade. Back in 2000, I wasn’t looking ahead to the next decade, but rather trying to get to the one-year mark, the two-year mark, and especially the five-year mark that was the big milestone with my subtype of breast cancer. Now, when I think of the decade that followed my diagnosis, it’s interesting that the story of those years is told in my memoir. At this eighteen year cancerversary, I’m preparing it for my editor.

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Our family when I’d just finished treatment and still had short hair

Those ten years include walking that cancer treatment path while navigating the toxic job at The Research Company. Ultimately, that included being fired from my job and the accompanying shame and anger that goes with it. God’s grace was evident as I took the steps to return to working as a school nurse at McDougle Middle. There I developed friendships that I continue to enjoy to this day. I was able to use my gifts and experiences from working as a psychiatric nurse to help students struggling with mental health issues. That trail led me to becoming a trainer in Youth Mental Health First Aid that resulted in being a co-leader with Cindy. She told me about a part-time job as a research nurse with UNC Outpatient Psychiatry– just enough work for my post-retirement from the schools last March.

That decade included going through the mid-life challenges of raising children, caring for my mother who was diagnosed with dementia, and trying to find my life when my nest emptied. Part of what I found was the extraordinary of taking yearly solo journeys, that became spiritual pilgrimages. In those ten years, I took seven journeys that included places like Jekyll Island, Georgia and the San Juan Islands of Washington State. Accounts of all those journeys woven into my everyday life are all contained in my memoir, that I didn’t know I would write when I was diagnosed that June 22, 2000.

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First journey to Sedona became a template for 13 more

Beyond that decade, I’ve had eight more years that have continued to open up the world to me while pulling me into what is essential. My life has followed the course that is unique for me, as I continued with seven more journeys and entered my ‘senior years’ and now I’ve added the joy of being a grandmother.  How rich my life has been, how grateful I feel for God’s blessings and the way they have shown up through the people and places in my path.

I remember when I was reeling in the shock of my diagnosis, sitting in the waiting room for my appointment with the surgeon just days after the radiologist looked at that mammography film. Restless with anxiety, I listened as a woman talked to the receptionist.

“Yeah, it’s been eight years now since my surgery,” the woman told the receptionist.

“That’s great,” she responded. “You’re doing so well.”

She’s lived for eight years, I thought, and felt a wave of relief wash over me. Just by overhearing that conversation I felt hope, the first time I ever heard about someone’s cancerversaryand didn’t even know there was such a thing.

My hope for you this day, is that something that I’ve shared will bring you a wave of relief. I don’t know what you’re struggling with, but I hope that you can look ahead, to what you want for the next decade– or the next year, or two years, or five years.

Your road will be unique– the way that is right for you. My prayer is that God will bless you as you take each step forward. As I say on Twitter #stepforwardfromcancer or whatever holds you back.

If your challenge is cancer, I invite you to read my recent invited post on the SHARE site entitled 5 Tips for Getting Through Cancer https://www.sharecancersupport.org/2018/06/breast-cancer-stories/

Blessings to you!

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How About You?

What is your _______versary? What was that pivotal event in your life?

How do you look back on the time since that event and the path your life has followed?

How can you celebrate your _________versary?

 

 

Places in My Path: Coquina Beach

The beach called me early this morning.  I wanted to start my day walking by the water — always a place of renewal.  Does that draw come from the nurture experienced when we were floating in our mother’s womb?  Is it from the release that’s felt with baptism or the desire to sail across the blue-green surf to the possibility on the horizon?  Whatever the reason, I know when that’s where I must go.

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When I arrived just after 7:00, there were only a few people on the shore of Coquina Beach.  The sky had a soft pinkish band across the faint blue background.  I drew in a deep breath of the salty, cool air and felt so thankful to have that white expanse mostly to myself.  My trip had been filled with hours of driving, talking with my son and daughter-in-law about preparations for our soon-to-arrive grandson, and conversations with my cousin, Linda about our family.  I’d had the worry of my mother being admitted to the hospital while I was on the road to Charleston.  Finally, I’d talked with her doctor and was reassured that she was better and it was okay for me to continue my trip.  Now, I could just walk by the emerald water of the Gulf and feel my energy renewed.

After I’d walked for a while, I was ready to ride my bike along the trail that was shaded between the large Australian pines.  I’d never seen those whispy gray-green boughs compared to the dark green needles of the pines in North Carolina.  The trail offered open views of the water while I was protected from sun-exposure by the trees—the perfect combination of trees and water.  I passed a small building with the sign “Changing Station” on the front and I thought it was great that mother’s or grandmother’s with babies had such a nice place to change their diaper.  Then I realized it was a Changing Cabana—for slipping on your bathing suit!

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As the morning progressed, you could smell charcoal fires tended by families gathered around the picnic tables.  Further down the trail, a high school drum line performed at the finish line of a local 5-K race and I stopped to listen, reminded of how my younger son had played the snare.  I continued to the south end of the beach where there was a drawbridge and people congregated in lawn chairs and benches to watch the tall sailboats passing underneath, one escorted by a pod of dolphins.

I found myself asking, “What season is it?” because when I packed my car Wednesday morning it was snowing and standing in the shadow of the bridge it had reached 77 degrees.  I’d left the gray days, that seemed to dominate winter, behind me and the Saturday sunshine, bright colors of umbrellas and bathing suits, the green water and blue sky all seemed to lift that blanket of winter.

In the past, I would have set a time to leave, made a schedule for the day.  But to be in the present, I needed to just focus on what was in front of me, and when I felt like I’d gotten what I needed, I would move on.  When the time felt right, I put my bike in the car and bought a cup of fresh-squeezed lemonade and took a final stroll along the shore.

The cold water was refreshing to my feet as I walked in the edge of the surf, navigating around children who were playing.  I found myself stopping to watch the smallest of them, the little boys in their sun hats.  I imagined my grandson, loving the water like his Dad.  How could he be related to us and not love water, I thought.

I felt renewed by my time on Coquina Beach, grateful for that place that was just what I needed.

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How about you?

Where is the place you go to for renewal?

How do you know when you need to spend time there?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Better than a Pen Pal

One of my favorite classes in elementary school was geography, especially in Miss Harrington’s fourth grade.  I loved how we learned about the lives of people in faraway places.  Back in that day, we would say they lived ‘overseas’ and that seemed like an insurmountable distance.  The only people in my family that had traveled that far were the men in the military.  For me, the closest thing to going there would be having a pen pal—something I read about in My Weekly Reader, our individual newspapers that we received on Fridays.

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Back then, our class didn’t pursue a pen pal relationship with a classroom in another country—like the French students did at McDougle Middle School where I was the nurse.  While the idea fascinated me when I was a girl, my interest wasn’t keen enough to pursue that on my own.  The closest I came was making Christmas cookies with my Girl Scout Troop and sending them to soldiers serving in Vietnam.  Months later, I was so excited when we received thank you letters.  How special to see that envelope with the unusual stamp and my name in the soldier’s handwriting.

Today the world’s very different with how we’re surrounded by people of so many nationalities.  While they bring the world to us, there’s still something about having a friendship by correspondence with someone living far away.  Perhaps it’s that feeling from childhood, the sense of mystery in wondering what their community is like, how their daily routine is in that foreign place.

Last September, I spent a week at the Abbey in Iona, Scotland with forty-one people from around the world.  We all went there to learn from our leader, Alistair McIntosh, about The Pilgrimage of Life.  Because we came as fellow sojourners with the common need to explore our life journey, we quickly formed a bond.  Recently the email list was sent to all the participants.  There were folks that I’d enjoyed time with but had failed to get their address.  I sent them a message and now think of it as sending a letter to a pen pal that I never had as a girl.  With my electronic letters, I didn’t have to wait for weeks for a response.  Instead, I had notes back within forty-eight hours.

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Meeting room at the Abbey

One of my messages went to Jenny and John, a lovely couple from Australia.  How nice that Jenny responded with a newsy email about recent visits with family and friends and her work as a minister in the Presbytery.  It was as if we were sitting at one of the tables sipping tea and eating oatcakes, as our group did each night in the Refectory.  I could feel her warm presence and hear her lovely Aussie accent.

And then there was the message to Aldo in Holland.  He was the one who’d called my Southern accent “weird”  (See post, Southern Drawl, Oct. 11, ’17).  He had such a thirst for understanding and was so open to discovery through the process of that week.  It was refreshing to see an adult who had that kind of energy for faith– given how worn down we can be by the time we reach mid-life.  What a gracious response he had to my email and blog post.  How exciting to hear of his plans for a future journey.

The urban Dictionary (www.urbandictionary.com) defines a Pen Pal as, “A species of human made nearly extinct by the advent of electronic mail, penpals communicate via the ancient art of Penmanship.” Ouch! Makes me feel ancient!

Maybe I’ll create a hybrid form of pen pals by emailing Jenny and Aldo and asking them to write me back.  Then I can enjoy that ancient art of penmanship, excited by their unique handwriting on those envelopes with the foreign stamps waiting for me in my mailbox.

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Our group taking a pilgrimage across Iona to important landmarks

How About You?

Have you ever had a Pen Pal?

What was that experience like for you?

Are there people you connect with through email or social media from other countries?  How does that impact your life?  How do you think it impacts theirs?

 

Eye on the Sparrow

I sit at the dining room table and write, occasionally looking up at the window where there’s an attached bird feeder.  It’s the first one I’ve ever had so close for my viewing and since the word’s gotten out, we’re attracting lots of small birds and an occasional cardinal.  Now that I’m home a lot more, retired from my full-time work, I have time to watch birds –which seems sort of cliché.  But today I need these little birds, the sparrows that remind me of a message from an earlier time.

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At noon I visited Mama at the nursing home to feed her lunch.  It was a hard visit.  She kept her mouth clamped shut and it was difficult-to-impossible to get her to take even her sweet iced tea—which she usually likes.  Eventually, she took a sip of liquid and then I tried feeding her vegetables but she’d take a few bites then stop, holding the food in her mouth and looking at me with concern.  I would remind her to chew, to swallow, trying to give her body the commands that her brain wasn’t firing due to her dementia.  My last visit, just three days ago, she was smiling some, and would say a few words, and eating well.  But not today.

I checked with the aide assigned to Mama and learned she’d eaten fine at breakfast.  When I described how difficult it was getting her to take her lunch, the aide reminded me, “She does that sometimes.”  I know that’s true but it’s still hard when you can’t make it better no matter what you do.  Finally, I just sat beside Mama and watched an old Gunsmoke episode, telling her how Daddy loved that show, and probably liked Miss Kitty because of her red hair– that was like Mama’s.

I left feeling disheartened but telling myself that the next time I visited she’d probably be better.  When I leave with a sad image of Mama, it helps to replace it with one from childhood when we thought we’d always stay the same.  I remember Mama insisting that we all watch the Billy Graham Crusade after supper.  Sometimes on summer nights, we’d sit there with a pan of butterbeans to shell.  We’d hear Ethel Waters sing “His Eye Is On The Sparrow.”  As much as I wanted to be outside playing until dark, I paid attention to that song.  Years later, when I was going through a tough semester in college, I remember taking a walk and out of the blue, I started singing the chorus: “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free, For His eye is on the sparrow, And I know He watches me.”

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My Hallmark Retirement Card, Design by Marjolein Bastin

I was comforted by the scripture referenced by the song found in Matthew 10:29-31, that said that even when sparrows fall to earth that God notices, and so then how much more God notices us, His children.  Thinking about how even those little sparrows at my feeder are noticed by God, reminded me of the crusade song.  Leaving the nursing home with a heavy heart, I knew that God saw my sorrow, that He watches me.  I called my friend who immediately asked, “What’s wrong?” and then we talked my entire fifty-minute trip home, God applying a balm to my heart through the care of my friend.

When we moved Mama to the nursing home, we cleaned out her house for it to be rented.  One of her things that I chose as a keepsake was a small dish with a bird.  I remember seeing it on the shelf when I was a child.  I don’t know how Mama acquired it, but I liked the color and form.

It reminds me of the sparrow that meant something to Mama and means something to me.

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How about you?

What times in your life have you needed the reminder of God’s care like that for the sparrow?

How have you felt God’s care?

 

Bright Side of the Road

Bright Side of the Road.  That’s the title of one of my favorite Van Morrison songs that I enjoy dancing to at the Sunday Night Swing Dance.  Sometimes I’m fortunate to have William as my partner.  He’s from Belfast, Ireland and remembers seeing Van Morrison performing in the local clubs before he was famous.  While the song is about a relationship, I give my own meaning to the first two lines that play over in my head: “From the dark end of the street To the bright side of the road.”

Sometimes it’s easier to stay on the dark end of the street.  We can navigate familiar paths on autopilot without having to think about where we’re going, without having to watch for the forks in the road.  That is until we’re forced to change because that old route doesn’t serve us anymore.  Something shifts within us and we want to travel in a different way.  We can be so afraid of the discomfort of a new route that we stay on that dark side of the road.  This reminds me, again, of swing dancing.

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Initially, my husband and I, along with another couple, visited the Sunday Night Swing Dance.  While the people there ‘danced around’ changing partners, we just danced with our spouses.  That night when we left, I commented that the regulars seemed like a friendly group, and I thought it would be fun to be part of that community.  But my husband and the other couple didn’t agree because they didn’t like changing partners.  For a while, I let it rest, but I kept seeing the image of the people dancing that night, how much fun they were having.  In retrospect, I felt the energy pull toward dancing that I talked about in my last post, Follow Your Energy.

Most of the times we’d gone dancing, it was because I’d initiated it by asking for lessons for a Christmas present and giving us ballroom classes for our anniversary.  While my husband was a good dancer, that wasn’t what he wanted to do.  I’d convinced myself that we were alike in that interest, but after our night at the Swing Dance, I saw that we weren’t.  I wasn’t ready to let go of my desire to be part of that community, so I approached it from a different angle.  I took classes with one of the owners of the dance company that hosted the event.

It was a risk-free way to check out the group to see if they were as amiable as they seemed.  Eventually, I got to know some people in my class and they urged me to join them on Sunday night.  I’d never been to a dance alone and felt weird going without my husband, even though I knew others came without their spouses.  But with my husband’s blessing, I drove myself to the Sunday Night Swing Dance.  At first, it was awkward, waiting for someone to ask for a dance, knowing only a few people to talk with.

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With Friends at the Halloween Dance

But I stuck with it.  I kept pushing past my uncomfortable feelings, making one new friend at a time, learning names of my partners, smiling when I made errors in following the lead.  Eventually, I was able to relax and laugh and dance just like the others that I’d envied the first time I visited.

Now, when I dance to “Bright Side of the Road,” I feel happy that I took the risk and crossed “from the dark end of the street,” refusing to stay in the shadows and learning to dance with confidence under the mirrored ball.

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Mirrored ball hanging over the Bright Side of the Road!

 

How about you?

Are there areas you’re drawn to but afraid of because they’re unfamiliar?

What would help you move out of the comfort of a familiar path through the discomfort of the unknown road in order to reach the destination you desire?

 

Prayin’ Trees

I didn’t know what to say to her, my nursing director who’d found her husband after he’d committed suicide.  What can words do when someone has had such a tragic loss?Later, when I was driving home from work, riding through the country, I noticed a huge oak tree in the middle of a pasture.  Underneath the summer leaves, I could envision the limbs stretched toward the sun and that reminded me of knotty fingers reaching heavenward, as if in prayer.  That stately tree was probably over a hundred years old.  I imagined the oak holding my prayers for our grieving director, lifting them to God.  In time, my prayer was that she would heal and be sturdy, like the oak.

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That day I made that oak a Prayin’ Tree.  Each time I passed, it was a physical reminder to pray for her, to be open to ways I might help her through a rough time.  It occurred to me that while I went about my day, that tree remained in the same position, holding my prayer, lifting her up.  I wanted to tell her about the Prayin’ Tree.  But everything was so raw so soon after her husband’s death that I thought it would be better to write her.  On a notecard with a tree like the one in the pasture, I told her about the oak and my commitment to pray for her.  At least she could read it in private.  Later she told me how much it meant and that she had come to look for large oaks that now provided some comfort.

I’d always loved trees, like the ones I mentioned in my last post that I discovered in the Pacific Northwest.  As a child, we had a chinaberry that was a treehouse.  The bottom limb was so wide our dog could follow behind us.  I loved them in landscape paintings and especially liked their silhouette against a blue sky.  But now, trees were companions in prayer, a way for me to be reminded of my commitment to go from worry to actively praying, leaving the burden of concern on that tree.

Over the years since that experience with my nursing director, I’ve developed a habit of finding a tree on my morning walks to represent a specific person who needed prayer.  When folks share with me concerns about finances or job security, I’ve chosen pine trees with their rich green needles reminding me of money.  For those dealing with infertility, I’ve found trees with many branches that represent an extensive family tree.

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People often share with me when they’re diagnosed with breast cancer because they know that I’m a survivor.  Unfortunately, there have been so many that I’ve had to pick a very large tree and give each woman her own limb.  Sometimes after thinking about each of them, praying for their successful treatment, I imagine the woman sitting on that limb swinging her legs like a girl that’s climbed to her favorite perch.

For me, Prayin’ Trees are powerful because they are part of our bountiful earth and remind me of our gracious God.  I’m always happiest when I’m outside, and when I’m taking my walks I feel most open to God working in my life and the lives of others.  Now with close friends and family who know about my Prayin’ Trees, they’ll say, “I need you to pick a tree for me,” then they tell me what’s in their heart.

That oak in the middle of the pasture with its roots running deep became the symbol of praying for others, depending on God to make them strong.  Now I pray that we can be like sturdy oaks, ready to help bear that burden when those around us are in need.

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What about you?

Do you have a symbol or method of remembering those you’re concerned about?

How has that helped you to honor your commitment to be consistent in praying and thinking about them?

Follow Your Whim

Just three days into January and I’m starting to feel boxed in.  It’s not the record cold weather, or my Christmas decorations losing their luster.  This is the season when I start to ponder where I might go on my solo journey, my yearly pilgrimage.  The snow in the forecast reminds me of a similar time some years ago when I had a whim about that year’s destination.

My husband and I watched the movie Snow Falling on Cedars about a murder trial in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington State.  In the story, the reporter for the newspaper had once been the boyfriend of the wife of the man who was accused.  What fascinated me, was not only their love story and that it was a period piece from the forties, but the huge fir trees and the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.  I’d always loved trees – the large pecans, walnuts, and oaks on our farm.  But I’d never seen trees like the ones in the movie.

“I want to go there,” I told my husband, wondering if he’d think that was impulsive.

“Well, you should,” he said.

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The images of the movie stayed in my mind and I wondered if wanting to go there was foolish: a girlish idea for a grown woman.  Besides, my yearly journeys had become like pilgrimages—a Spirit-led trip.  I’d always prayed that God would lead me in the direction I should go.  Could God honor such a whimsical idea?  Would that be foolishness to God?

Eventually, I felt like it was right for me to go.  I booked my stay at a hostel in Friday Harbor and arranged all the details.  After a long travel day, I arrived and moved into a small dormitory-style room with several other women, all much younger than me.

My first morning, I caught the island shuttle bus to all the sites.  It was fantastic taking a prayer walk through the rows of Pelindaba Lavender Farm (see post-Lavender Field Morning).  On my return trip, I talked to the woman bus driver and learned she’d moved to the area after seeing Free Willy.  We laughed at how a movie had been the impetus for us to travel there.

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Luscious Lavender

The next day, I took a hike up Mt. Constitution and found I had to depend on God each step of the way.  I went deep into the forest that looked so much like what I’d seen in the movie.  What grace I felt when I safely made it to the summit and beheld Puget Sound.

I traveled for an overnight in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.  There I stayed in a Bed & Breakfast next to Craigdarroch Castle—a Victorian-era mansion.  I arrived too late to take the castle tour, so I stood outside and observed the full moon casting its light on the turrets.  A security guard came over to me.

“Mam, are you part of the tour group,” he asked.

“No, I’m not with them.  I just wanted to take in the beauty of that moon,” I told him.

“You from down South, eh,” he said.

“Yeah, and how about you?” I asked, detecting what might be a Scottish accent.

“Well, it’s a long story,” he said.  “Came here years ago from Nova Scotia in search of my father.  We’d had problems but when I became a Christian, I wanted to make things right.  Fortunately, we did before he died.”

“I’m glad you were reunited.  I’m a Christian, too.”

“I know you are,” he said.  “It’s right that you’re here.”

I marveled at the interaction with the stranger in my path.  Walking back to the B & B, I felt amazed by how God had worked in and through me during my ‘whimsical’ trip.

Now, I know that God can honor a whimsical idea.  Guess it’s time to start thinking about where I’m being drawn for this year’s pilgrimage.

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preparing for a pilgrimage

How about you?

Have you followed an idea that seemed foolish?

Were you rewarded for taking that risk?  If not, what impact did it have?

 

 

 

 

Journeys to the Past

At this time of year, I feel a yearning to return to childhood.  I long to smell the cedar tree decorated with a string of large multi-colored lights and icicles; to taste the cherries in my aunt’s paper-thin cookies; to feel the rush of being in the basement of Rose’s Dime Store looking at my hoped-for toys.  The house in the picture reminds me of our two-story farmhouse and my view from my upstairs bedroom window.  The small sleigh transports me back to my journey to Vermont.

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When I took that trip a couple of summers ago,  I visited Shelburne Museum in the western part of the state.  I was fascinated by their display of sleighs.  Growing up in the South, and not a family who skied or took cold weather vacations, I’d never ridden in a sleigh.  Like the iconic images of Santa and his reindeer, as a child, I thought Currier and Ives winter scenes were like fairytales.  People didn’t ride in sleighs because you never had that much snow — at least not in central North Carolina.

Now, what strikes me about the sleigh in the picture, is that it’s not like Santa and his reindeer, magically ascending into the sky.  Instead, this one looks like an everyday sleigh that would have actually been used to move quickly through the snow.

In the museum, there were all kinds– those that were for formal events and those like workhorses.  The one that captured my attention was a school bus sleigh used to transport children from rural areas of Vermont in the late 1800s.  I could imagine it traveling down the narrow lanes I’d seen on my drive from White River Junction.  Those children were like me, riding home on a school bus.  How beautiful the countryside would be with a blanket of white, that makes the daytime stark and the nighttime mysterious.

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Like other journeys, I wished I could experience Vermont in seasons besides summer.  That would give me a fuller picture of what life was like in that part of the country.  It reminded me how my eyes had been opened on a journey to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.  There I saw a display of a horse-drawn mail carriage.  Inside, I was surprised to find a small pot-bellied stove.  My Granddaddy Smith had been a rural mail carrier in North Carolina in the early 1900s.  He would have needed that warmth in the frigid January days in remote areas of Chatham County.

This discovery from the past seemed to provide a small connection with my grandfather, who died before I was born.  Now I have another way to imagine him that is a gift from one of the places on my journeys.

Both my childhood Christmas memories and discoveries about the past made on my journeys, make me want to return to those times and places.  That’s a universal sadness we all feel.  I guess the best we can do is to travel there in our mind’s eye, savor that memory, and move forward to new places and moments of discovery.

How about you?

When are the times that you feel a yearning to go back?

What do you do with those feelings?

 

Childhood Dreams

The dream of riding a horse in the wide-open West had been with me since I was a girl.  Those Saturday morning shows like Roy Rogers spurred my interest, making me want to feel that freedom from a saddle.  When my Aunt Polly told me stories of visiting the Tetons, my dream broadened to riding horseback there.  It was time to make that a reality.

I scheduled my solo journey to Wyoming.  I’d learned from cancer that you should live with intention, not wasting the time you have by postponing your heart’s desires.  Each trip I completed gave me more confidence in boldly stepping forward and trying new things.  I’d hiked a mountain alone and stayed with strangers in hostels.  Surely I could ride a horse again– even though it had been at least thirty years.

I planned my stay at Colter Bay in the Grand Teton National Park.  They offered riding trails led by experienced wranglers.  Their website stated all levels of riders could participate.  I assumed they’d give me a gentle horse, an old gray mare for a middle-aged woman.  But instead, they assigned me to Tequila.

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Great, I thought, a horse that can make you crazy.

“She’s good, but sometimes she wants to lead the pack,” the college-age wrangler told me.  “I’ll ride behind you to help you keep her in line.”

I felt my first flutter of panic, climbing up into the saddle on the very tall horse.  I couldn’t believe how high up it felt once I was seated– my height added to Tequila’s.  We practiced how to use the reigns and heard instructions on going up and downhill.

We followed the lead wrangler, starting out through a forest where the ground was level.  About the time I felt myself relaxing, Tequila jerked to the side to move in front of the horse in front of us.   I clung to the saddle horn for dear life as the wrangler came around from behind and expertly edge Tequila back into position.

The trail started downhill and the lead wrangler turned to face us.  “Remember to sit back and keep your toes facing the sky,” the wrangler told our group of nine.

I did what she said but felt like I was going to go over the top of the horse.  Level ground was much better!

Finally, it was flat again as we entered a grassy meadow with wildflowers: red Indian Paintbrush, yellow Balsamroot, and blue lupines.  We stopped in front of Jenny Lake that was as smooth as glass and the stunning mountains were mirrored in the water, a double beauty to behold.  We sat on our horses and drank in the splendor.

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I felt like I’d arrived to the dream of my childhood.  That place really existed and now as an adult, I was getting to discover it.  Taking a breath of the clean, evergreen-scented air, I felt thankful that I’d made it to the Tetons.  The journey I’d started in my imagination as a child had now been achieved.  This feeling of accomplishment, of completion, was worth all the effort it took to get here, and worth conquering my fear of riding a horse, a very tall horse.

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How about you?

Is there a place you’ve dreamed of but never made it there?

Is there an activity you’ve wanted to do but have been afraid to try?

How could you make your dreams become realities?