Latest Entries »

IMG_5800Spring.  Easter.

Everything is greening and growing.  Flowers bloom, bees sip clover, lawnmowers drone.

This is the time of year for resurrection.

I typically like resurrection.  I like new life.  I like hope fulfilled.  I like the idea of being raised again.

But I don’t like the fact that it’s preceded by death.

Because death means pain.  Death means letting go. Death means that something that once was is no more.

But I’m at a point in my life now that I feel – even with the death part, especially with the death part - I feel resurrected.

I’ve been thinking back two years to when I was finishing treatment for breast cancer.  Relay for Life was coming up, and I felt I should raise some money.  But I didn’t.  I didn’t have the energy.  I didn’t have much of an inclination even to go to the event.  But I went anyhow.  I made myself go.

It felt odd to get a “survivor” T-shirt.  I’d always been pretty healthy, only having surgery once when I was three to have my tonsils out.  But now, in April 2012, I was mostly bald from two rounds of chemo.  Now I had three scars from surgeries.  Now I was very weak, wondering if I could walk a lap that evening.  But I went.  I can’t say I really enjoyed it.  But I went.

Last year, 2013, was a year removed from my cancer journey, and I was stronger.  I had hair.  I could walk more than a lap.  But I didn’t want to go to Relay for Life.  It was too close to real.  Cancer had made a mark on me, and I wasn’t sure who I was.  I didn’t want to be around a lot of people who had that same mark.  That would be too hard.  So I didn’t go.

DSCN2471But this year, this year I feel resurrected.

Cancer feels further away.  I feel so much stronger.  I know that this year I can walk several laps.  I know I can see people in the middle of their cancer journeys and not feel so vulnerable.  I can know that I was there, that I survived – but also that I came out a better person.

I have had time to acknowledge and to be with the feelings of my brush with death, to grieve what I lost, to become a new person and get used to how she feels and how she thinks.

And you know what?  I like this new person a lot better!

She’s not as resentful, not so burdened with negative thoughts and feelings.  She’s better at going with the flow of life.

She’s less judgmental, less critical.  She’s more forgiving, more generous.  And she’s happier at any given moment.

like being resurrected – even though it meant a death of my former self.  It was time for her to go.

And now it’s time for the new me to be.

This year, I want to be a part of the Relay for Life.  I want to participate, to be with others who have been or who are on the cancer journey.  I want to walk laps with them and with those who had or have companions on the cancer journey.

I want to raise some money.  My Facebook friends have been very generous (thank you to all who have donated!), and I’ve increased my goal twice because of their generosity.  But I’d love to raise a little more money and meet another goal.

So if you’re reading this and want to make a donation to my resurrection and my Relay for Life participation, here’s where you can do just that on my Relay for Life page.  Your donation will go to the American Cancer Society and helping people who are on the cancer journey – or who will be.  It will also go toward helping find a cure so that fewer and fewer people have to take this journey.

I’m using this year’s Relay for Life as a marker.  A marker that says, “Yes, I survived a cancer journey.  I suffered and persevered.  And I came out the other side a better person for it.”

This Friday night, April 25th, I’ll be walking the first lap with other cancer survivors.  And I’ll know I’ve been resurrected.  And I’ll be happy and grateful and feel especially blessed.

Because resurrection is a miracle!

IMG_0661

My last chemo treatment

 

IMG_0907

Last radiation & LAST cancer treatment!

Relay for Life 2012

Relay for Life 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DSCN2442 IMG_5811

 

 

 

 

Back in 2008, I quit teaching.  It was a career I had loved for 19, 20 years, one I had poured my heart and soul into.

But I gradually found myself losing my passion, feeling that teaching was more “work” than “love.”  I had promised myself that if I found myself getting bitter, poisoning the environment around me as I’d seen others do as they hung on to make it to the required 30 years for retirement – and if I had the financial option – I would quit.

I’d quit when I felt the bitterness seeping in.

And so I did.  I quit teaching after 23 years in the classroom.

I took what I called my “Jubilee Year” when I did what spoke to me.  I took a couple of Western Excursions, I joined community groups, I helped a former student (and current friend) make a movie, I went on retreat.

I had a ball.

And as that Jubilee Year ended,  I felt guilty that I wasn’t working, that I wasn’t being a productive member of society.

Where did I get that idea, the one that I had to be working and producing income to be “worthy”??  I have struggled with that guilt for the past five or more years.

Who am I and what is my value if I don’t have an income-producing job?

The guilt was a nagging undercurrent from the end of my Jubilee Year through my breast cancer journey and through my recovery time.  When would I get a job and be “valuable” again? Was I just a slacker, somebody too lazy for our society, somebody who was not a worthwhile person?

I had beautiful experiences, got to spend time with people I loved in wonderful places both here at home and in my travels.  I had the time to recover from cancer.

But still my lack of a job – and material, measurable output – worried me over and over, a current running under everything I did.

And then I had a breakthrough.

I realized that I had wasted so much time worrying about not having worth that I missed being in the moment, that I missed enjoying the beauty of the Now that was.

I wasn’t truly present because of my guilt.  I missed the joys of what was right in front of me at each instant.

I realized that my whole perspective was stupid!  What a lack of wisdom and insight . . . and trust.

I realized ONCE AGAIN that I’m not in control.  That I’m blessed in innumerable ways.  That I’ve had a financial situation that has let me not work and still not be in debt.  That when the time is right, I’ll be back on the income-producing track, but that track doesn’t make me a more valuable human being than the one who didn’t have a job.  That I can be out in the world seeking – and that what I need will come to me when I need it.

That if I trust and act and let go, that’s enough.

IMG_5822And that I can let myself appreciate what I do have in each moment.  The health to take a walk and enjoy the blooming spring flowers. The once-stray cat who adopted me and who finally rolled over on her back to let me scratch her belly.  The freedom to take a trip to Savannah and revel in the live oaks and azaleas and Spanish moss and the ships on the Savannah River.  Time to start a new television series and binge watch on some days.  Time to have long lunches with friends.  Time to take a nap when I’m tired.  Time to stay up late and sleep in sometimes.  Free time with no obligations, no rushing around, no must-do list.

So many, many gifts.  Ones I didn’t fully appreciate because of the lingering guilt I felt.

Until just recently.

And then I finally gave myself permission to enjoy the Now, to forgive myself for being too ignorant to let go of guilt about working, about being valuable, about contributing to society through a job.

Finally to let myself be blessed each day, each moment, each Now.

Guilt-free.

IMG_5811 IMG_5800 IMG_5816 IMG_5825 IMG_5850 IMG_5864

 

IMG_5888

The nudge I needed to write this post.

The nudge I needed to write this post.

IMG_5894

 

A six-month check up yesterday has me thinking back two years to when I was in the middle of radiation treatments for breast cancer.  What a contrast between now and then!

But I also find similarities between now and then, as well.

IMG_0823

 

 

I’ll start with how I looked.  This is from almost two years ago.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_5777

 

And this selfie is from this weekend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big contrast, huh? At least when it comes to hair (or lack thereof).

Two years ago I had an outing with a friend to the Shirley Miller Wildflower Trail.  I could barely make it around the boardwalk and had to sit and rest a bunch of times.

But gosh, it was good to be outside and enjoying the wildflowers!

This weekend, I went by myself to the same place.  I spent a couple of hours mostly on my feet, sitting now and then, taking lots of photos of the exquisite little flowers.

And gosh, it was good to be outside and enjoying the wildflowers!

Who knew it would take two years for me to get most of my strength and stamina back?  I do remember one of my doctors saying that it took a long time for stamina to return, a long time to recover.

I had no idea it would be two years!

But you know what?  The fact that it has taken this long makes me all the more appreciative.

That’s where I have another comparison.

Both now and two years ago, appreciation was and is a big part of my life.

This week I appreciate a good check up, a clear mammogram, one that comes two and a half years after a breast cancer diagnosis.

I also appreciate wildflowers – as well as being able to walk at a fairly brisk pace up Snodgrass Hill in the battlefield for the first time since pre-cancer.  Two years ago, I appreciated wildflowers – and being able to walk across a parking lot.

Both years, spring is especially sweet, especially blessed.  Bradford pear trees blooming, forsythia blooming, daffodils and tulips blooming.

And wildflowers.  Lots of wildflowers.

Then and now.

I feel lots of appreciation both now and then.

Lots and lots.

DSCN2422 DSCN0728 DSCN0717 DSCN2439 DSCN2389 DSCN2376

 

The photos with more green are from two years ago.  That was two weeks later than this year’s photos – after a very warm winter.  The brown background photos are from this year – after a much colder winter.  The flowers are on a later schedule this year.

View in my back yard with nine inches of snow

View in my back yard with nine inches of snow

Our winter storm last week left me disconnected.  Not powerless – even though that’s how I felt.  Just disconnected.

I was only without electricity for about two hours in the middle of the night.  But I woke up on Thursday of last week to no cable connection.  Thus no television, and even worse. . . . no internet.  Nine inches of snow that melted from the roads and my driveway in just one day.  But no internet connection for a week.

That’s when my suspicion was verified.

I am an addict.

I’m addicted to the internet.

I get all antsy when I have no internet connection.  Because, you see, browsing the internet is my escape when I don’t want to be.  When I want to escape, to think about anything except what I’m feeling, I browse the internet or stream a television show.

So I ended up with a week of detox from my addiction.  Yes, I did have my iPhone, but the screen is so small and the connection is so slow that it just didn’t serve as much of an escape.

I ended up doing what I’d have told someone else to do.  I tried to be with what I was feeling.  With anxiety, with feeling vulnerable, with feeling not in control, with feeling worried.  Just be with those feelings.

Emotions were stirring, probably coming to the surface for me to let them heal and let them go.  I felt that I was – that I am – getting close to a breakthrough.

That breakthrough hasn’t arrived . . .  yet.

But I have had messengers to help me along.

Messengers that came in the form of hawks.

In a walk before our winter storm and on walks this Sunday and an outing on Monday, hawks have visited me in the Chickamauga Battlefield.  A hawk would appear when I was deep in thought, when I was not being present to nature and its beauty as I was walking by or through fields and trees.  On the first visitation a hawk seemed to lead me on my walk.  It even showed up perched beside the road on my drive home.  On the second visitation a hawk circled over me, another hawk doing the same much higher in the sky.  On the third visitation it called to me and my friend.  Yes, called, over and over.  And circled.  And called some more.

Okay!  You have my attention!

I take hawk visitations seriously ever since two circled over me for a long, long time while I stood at my father’s grave about a month after his death 15 years ago.  That was in February, too.

IMG_5703

One of my hawk messengers

 

I see hawks as messengers.

The question is: what are they telling me now?

I don’t have to think about that for long.  I know what the message is.

It’s pay attention.  To the present, to where you are, to who you are, to the now.

 

Pay attention.

 

You don’t have to figure everything out.  Ride the currents, be present to the flow.

Be here now.

Even when you feel antsy and disconnected, the currents are still there.

Ride them.

IMG_5693

 

IMG_5644

Backyard maple (and heron sculpture)

IMG_5665

Front yard dogwood shedding some snow

 

I began the practice of asking for a “word for the year” last year at the suggestion of Abbey of the Arts.   This is the suggestion, based on the tradition of going to the Desert Mothers and Fathers for “wisdom and guidance”:

One tradition was to ask for a word –  this word or phrase would be something on which to ponder for many days, weeks, months, sometimes a whole lifetime. This practice is connected to lectio divina, where we approach the sacred texts with the same request – “give me a word” we ask – something to nourish me, challenge me, a word I can wrestle with and grow into.  The word which chooses us has the potential to transform us.

  • What is your word for the year ahead? A word which contains within it a seed of invitation to cross a new threshold in your life?

My word last year was “nurture.”  I found myself going back to that word throughout 2013.  I paid attention to it and focused on nurturing myself and others during the year, my first year after completing breast cancer treatments.  That word came almost unbeckoned.  It came as soon as I thought, “What word speaks to me for the year?”

But this year was different.  No word came immediately.  So, on New Year’s Day, I did a meditation asking for my word.

What I got was a word that puzzles me.

“Nurture” seemed pretty obvious.  But not my word for 2014.  It is indeed a word that will challenge me, one I can wrestle with and grow into.

That word is “respect.”

I’m not sure what or whom I’m to respect . . .

But that’s the point, right?  For me to be challenged, to grow into the word.  To wrestle with it, perhaps as Jacob wrestled with the angel, ultimately asking for blessing.

So this year will find me asking for respect (like Aretha?), looking for respect, finding it, giving it, receiving it.

And more that I can’t even anticipate.

Because words for the year are wise.  Wiser than I am.  But leading me to wisdom.

If you’d like to share your take on the word “respect,” please leave a comment below.  We all have different perceptions and emotions attached to words, and it may be that yours offers me an insight I need now – or will need later in the year.

And if you haven’t already done so, you might consider asking for a word for the year for yourself.  If you do, I’d love it if you’d share that with me in the comments, too.  I find it really interesting what we’re each called to and how we each grow into wisdom.

You might say I appreciate and respect your insights and sharing.  See there?  I already get to practice my word!

I hope your new year is blessed and brings you what you need.

I trust that it will, just as it will for me, too.  Some respect - in ways I can’t predict but that will be exactly what I need.

IMG_5355

I’m looking back tonight at 2013 with a whole lot of gratitude.  It was a year of recovery and resuming, of slowly getting back some stamina and learning how to be healthy again.

I could measure recovery with my driving trips.  How long could I drive without being worn out?  How easily could I carry around luggage?  How many days after a trip did it take me to recover?  How far could I walk – and for how long?

I could also measure my recovery by walks in the Chickamauga Battlefield, just a five-minute drive from my house.  I took my first post-chemo walk there, one of about 100 yards.  I walk much farther and faster now.  Not very fast or very far yet. . . but I appreciate the progress.

I was fortunate to have several trips this year.  Savannah was, of course, a destination (more than once), but I also made a pilgrimage to Milledgeville, return trips to Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman, AL, and two long trips.  One BIG, long trip was to the Tetons and Yellowstone.  And the one I just made was to New Hampshire.  Two years ago, I couldn’t come close to doing that kind of driving.  Across the country to Wyoming and Montana, and a couple of months later up to New England?  No way I could have done that in 2012!

You know what I think all of this means?

That I’m back!

So here’s a look at my 2013 life.  How blessed I am!  Though you don’t see them in the photos, friends and family were with me in many of these.  I’m extra blessed by the presence and love and support of wonderful friends and loving family – especially my very kind and generous sister.

I look back at 2013 tonight with so much gratitude.  I don’t know how 2014 could be any better, how I could be any more blessed.

But I’m thinking that, somehow, in some wildly wonderful way . . .

I just might be!

IMG_3161

A winter walk in the Chickamauga Battlefield

IMG_3328

Azaleas blooming in Savannah’s Forsyth Park in mid March

IMG_3368

St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Savannah

IMG_3503

Andalusia, Flannery O’Connor’s home outside Milledgeville, GA

IMG_3554

Georgia College, my alma mater

DSCN1582

A wildflower walk in the Pocket, Walker County, GA

IMG_4003

Magic light hour in Savannah

IMG_3670

The Etowah Indian Mounds, Cartersville, GA in April

"Tiger" kittens and mama cat.  The flash reacted interestingly with their eyes.

Stray kittens and mama cat at end of May.  Mama cat became a pet. I found good homes for the kittens.

Lake at Sacred Heart, Cullman, AL, sunrise

Lake at Sacred Heart, Cullman, AL, sunrise in late June

IMG_3654

My home church, Jerusalem Lutheran, Rincon, GA. Built in 1769.

IMG_4380

Nine Mile Prairie, Lincoln, Nebraska in late September

IMG_4459

The Tetons and Snake River, Jackson, Wyoming

IMG_4506

Mt. Moran at Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park in late September

IMG_4608

Old Faithful, Yellowstone

IMG_4632

Bison grazing roadside, Yellowstone

IMG_4711

Yellowstone Lake

IMG_4698

One of the many Yellowstone rivers – on a late September afternoon

DSCN2171

Another Yellowstone river, in the Lamar Valley

Last view of the Tetons before the drive home

Last view of the Tetons before the drive home

IMG_4839

Odell Brewery Tour, Ft. Collins, Colorado

IMG_4976

Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, in October

IMG_5049

A Forsyth Park walk along Whitaker Street, Savannah

Old Sheldon Church ruins, Yemassee, SC

Old Sheldon Church Ruins, Yemassee, SC

DSCN2240

Frank Lloyd Wright “sprite” at Auldbrass Plantation, Yemassee, SC in November

IMG_5232

Another Chickamauga Battlefield walk in December

IMG_5359

Congregational Church across the village green in Amherst, New Hampshire in December

IMG_5371

Mont Vernon, NH cemetery in December

The holiday season often involves road trips to visit family.  I joined the folks on the road this year, a pre-Christmas trek to see my sister and brother-in-law in the frozen Yankee hinterland of New Hampshire.

What’s different there from here in this part of the South?

Well, for one thing, in winter they have snow.  Lots of it.  And earlier dark, with sunset almost two hours earlier than here.

It’s cold and dark up there in the winter.

And they also have quaint, quintessential New England villages with white churches and village commons.  And lots of old homes.  And stone walls.  And snow plow blades on the front of trucks.

And more snow.

It’s a different world in many ways.

I hit the road last Tuesday and arrived back home yesterday.  There was snow on the ground along the way.  Lots of snow in New Hampshire.  And even some snow flurries on the drive back yesterday through the Virginia mountains.  Snow is something we folks in the Deep South don’t see often, so of course I was fascinated with it.

You’ll get the picture (literally) of the New England winter of snow and dark.

And its beauty.

Scroll on to get a taste of my journey.

 IMG_5304 IMG_5305 IMG_5307 IMG_5320 IMG_5322 IMG_5371 IMG_5333 IMG_5338 IMG_5343 IMG_5346 IMG_5356 IMG_5359 IMG_5374 IMG_5367 IMG_5370 IMG_5409 IMG_5384 IMG_5386 IMG_5390 IMG_5391 IMG_5402 IMG_5417 IMG_5426 IMG_5432

Do any of the rest of you have wildly varying moods during the holiday season?

Since just before Thanksgiving, I’ve found myself feeling all kinds of emotions – deep sadness, profound joy, overwhelming gratitude, debilitating listlessness, plain old grouchiness –  a full range.  Sometimes all in the same day.

I’ve been trying to be present to them all, because I feel each one has something to teach me, something I need to acknowledge and let myself feel.

I’ve been pondering a post about this for a couple of weeks, struggling with how to put what I’m feeling into words.

IMG_5271I can tell you some of the situations that have me feeling so deeply.  Through the miracle of Facebook, I’ve watched two mothers be with their dying sons the last two or three weeks – all the way through death itself and memorial services and into the first stages of grief.  Both sons were young – 16 and mid-30s.  How in the world can parents bear this kind of grief?  It makes my heart hurt.

Also on Facebook, I’ve seen photos of parents who gave birth to a child who had to have surgery in the first week of his life.  I’ve seen photos of mesmerized toddlers seeing their first Christmas tree.  I’ve seen people express how much they love the holidays and spending time with their families and friends.  I’ve seen photos of celebrations and quiet moments, photos of shopping and baking.  I see posts about good times – and those about heartache and pain and illness.

I’m aware of how the holidays can trigger unfelt emotions from our pasts, how addictions become sharper now, how we often feel weak, feel we need to escape, feel we just can’t bear one more moment of pain.  I’m aware that many are feeling the grief of loved ones who have died, who leave an empty place at our tables and in our hearts.  I’m aware of those who feel the emptiness of estrangement, that source of a pain they may have gotten used to – but that hurts a bit more sharply right now.

And I think of the contrast with how we all crave that “perfect” Thanksgiving or Christmas or Hanukkah, the ones depicted in Norman Rockwell paintings, the ones we see in movies and holiday television specials.

IMG_5270As in any season, at this very moment, we and those around us experience the breadth and depth of life and death.  But during this particular holiday season, that breadth and depth feels particularly poignant to me.  Maybe it’s because I’m a little further beyond my cancer journey and am feeling better and better, stronger and stronger.  When I was in the midst of the journey, I felt a whirlwind of emotions, each overlapping the other, each mixed in with the other.  But now I seem to be feeling each separate emotion, one at a time.  I’m trying to be with each one this holiday season, honoring what it brings me, acknowledging the shared humanity within it.

And as I type the word “holiday,” I remember that its root is “holy day.”

And I think, of course.

Of course holy days involve all sorts of emotions.  We’re in this sacredness together, honoring the holiness of being human.  We’re each lighting our candles in darkness.  We’re each looking for the Light.

So during this sacred season, I wish you the time and the fortitude to let yourself feel all of the emotions that swirl about and within.

And I’m telling you that you’re not alone.  I’m right there with you.  And I feel sure many others are, too.

And you know what?  Together, within our spoken and unspoken sharing, the holy is present.  As it always is.  But in this season of darkness and revelation, we might see it more clearly.

If we look closely, if we are willing to be present, there is the holy and sacred.  This holiday season.

And each day of our lives.

IMG_2957

 

 

 

There’s a part of me that wants to avoid struggle.  That wants things to be easy.  Or that wants a magical flash of instant transformation.

But that’s not how my life has worked.  I suspect that struggle – a tension between who I am and who I want to be – is just what I need.

Resentment has been a struggle of late.  Or not really of late – of a long time . . .  a lifetime.

Mummy in the AM & Bierstadt Hike 014I don’t want to feel resentful.  I don’t want to carry around that big old boulder, but I’ve not found a way to put it down.  I’ve been carrying a boulder of resentment off and on for a long, long time.  I’ll put it down every now and then, but I pick it back up, huffing and puffing, trying to get a good grip, sweating buckets as I struggle to carry it along everywhere I go.

But this past week something shifted.

I put that boulder down.

And this time, this time, I took out a chisel and chipped away some of it.  Actually, a lot of it.

What made me get a chisel and get to chipping was this realization:

Sometimes I have been proud to carry that resentment boulder.  I had become fond of it.  I was like, “Hey, look at me struggling under this big, heavy boulder.  Don’t you feel sorry for me?  People have treated me badly.  Yeah, they gave me this boulder, this big boulder I carry around.  It’s heavy, but it makes me strong – strong enough that maybe people won’t be able to hurt me.”

Crazy, huh?

And all the while I knew that was a lie.  I knew that life would be so much easier, so much lighter, without this big old boulder.  Yeah, people might treat me badly every now and then, but I didn’t have to carry around resentment.  I could let it go.  I could put the boulder down.

Yet even as I knew that, it was as if I couldn’t actually do it.  It was as if I had to struggle with carrying resentment.  The realization that sometimes I actually liked carrying it is what helped me put it down this time – and to get a chisel and start chipping away.

I’ve lived long enough to realize that I will face my weaknesses over and over, so I’m not fooling myself into thinking I’ll never feel resentment again.  But for now, I’ve put it down.  And if (more likely, when) I pick it back up, it will be smaller. Quite a bit smaller.

Yeah, I really do feel a lot better without it.

Without that boulder, I’m so much. . .  well, so much lighter.  And that feels pretty darn good.

IMG_5232

Barnard Street squares & a bit more

Savannah is a city best experienced on foot.  Here are some photos from the last day of my last Savannah trip.  I took an afternoon walk down Barnard Street – from Gaston Street to City Market – and took photos of each square.  Plus a few other photos, too.

IMG_5159

Chatham Square

IMG_5160

Chatham Square benches in November afternoon sun

IMG_5173

Pulaski Square

IMG_5180

Pulaski Square

IMG_5191

Orleans Square

IMG_5194

Orleans Square

IMG_5196

German Memorial Fountain in Orleans Square

IMG_5203

Telfair Square, looking at the Telfair Museum

IMG_5206

Ellis Square at City Market. This is a reclaimed square and didn’t exist when I was a kid.

IMG_5211

Moss-crowned lion statute (guarding General Oglethorpe’s statue). This was on my walk back on Bull Street.

IMG_5155

To answer the Chatham Square bench question: Yes, I do! Best wishes on your search, dear Bench Writer.

IMG_5167 IMG_5171

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 396 other followers