This Season Has A Lesson To Share

Have you noticed, those who live in areas with distinctive seasons that the light is shifting?  The blooming flowers have changed from reds and pinks to a rich gold and deep, royal purple. If you are like me maybe your eyes are beginning to water a bit. The maples and dogwoods have been holding a secret for a few weeks but it is beginning to show…the bright red leaves that maple wears this time of year and the berries on the dogwoods, a last gift to the birds before winter, are starting to be visible.

I have a confession to make…the change of seasons always catches me by surprise – perhaps that says something about my simple way of thinking but it is true! I find myself every season looking around one day and saying,

“Oh, it is you autumn! Welcome! Welcome! It is almost your time. My how I have missed you. You can’t even begin to know how grateful I am to spend this season with you.”

Each season, I believe, has lessons to teach. The beauty is that even though the seasons come one after another, in their sequence, the lessons are never the same.  Last year’s season calls to us from a different place. We are no longer present in that space…we have moved through and emerged different from before. Year after year I feel the changes deep within and I’m called to discover what God, through this seasonal shift wants me to grapple with, reflect on and hold close.

This year the lesson I keep coming back to is the thought there are some things that need  to be let go of, to be released… to be allowed to fall!

The leaves are preparing to leave the past behind, to let go and give themselves to tomorrow’s growth. The garden that I lovingly nurtured in May is saying goodbye (as well as asking if I could weed her better next year). The mamma bird that fed at my feeder as she raised her babies, is remembering her nest and preparing to move on for a time.

There are lessons to explore there. As I look around this world we share, I think there are, in my mind, many things to leave behind. Destructive and hurtful postures such as intolerance, ingratitude and unkindness, to name a few. Language that tears down rather than lifting others up. Judgement that too often bruises another’s heart – sometimes irreparably. Habits and ways of interacting and engaging, individually and collectively that doesn’t come from a place of health and doesn’t lead to a place a healing.

Autumn says slow down, look inward and take a few moments to recognize that what was before you yesterday is being transformed. So, I plan to use this autumn to think about the things that I need let fall, to use them, good and bad, to nurture tomorrow’s growth through the lessons they have to teach. It is the pruning and discarding of habits and attitudes – those that aren’t reflective of our better natures, that is needed. Let’s open space and make room for more gratitude, more compassion…more love for one another.  For the season of growth will be upon us as the earth makes it’s way around the sun. This season, where we are today, calls us to prepare.

Join me?

We, The Memory Keepers

Part of the human experience, for me anyway, is to keep the memories of those who have gone before. Of times…of moments that were pivotal in each life as well as those which impacted our collective experience. It is why I love, LOVE to read and study history – always have!

It is the collection of stories across time that speaks to me.  It is the people and the choices they made. How a seemingly inconsequential decision can have tremendous impact on individual as well as communal lives. It is fascinating to me.  It is also an acknowledgement that there are some stories we choose to tell, to hold onto and some that we relegate to the deep caverns of our memory.

The holding close of memories became very personal for me almost 15 years ago when my father at 62 was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. He is still with us, a shell of himself now but you should see his smile! That man, ravaged by disease is able to light up a room and connect with everyone around him simply by breaking into a smile that still touches his bright blue eyes!

Memory keeping, I have discovered, is a holy endeavor!

When dad was first diagnosed my mom and I were ill prepared for what we were going to face. We had no clue really, but how could you!

They were still working and active and looking forward to the day they could retire – play golf and travel. Those plans were never realized. But isn’t that often the case – for all of us – every day?

There are 5.7 million people in the United States who rely on their loved ones to be  memory keepers and that number is only expected to grow! I can tell you from personal experience that it is heart breaking – watching the progression of this disease. Watching your loved one lose more and more of themselves day-by-day. My dad, my tall, proud, kind, funny (if you listened closely), quiet, loving, giving, capable, responsible dad – can’t feed himself any longer – and that breaks my heart.

Without those who love him keeping the story of his life alive he would already be lost to time even as his heart continues to beat strongly within his chest. His story connected to so many other stories is too important to allow to fade. Just as everyone’s story is.

And so we visit him, and talk about the time he spent hours patiently talking my cat Patches out of a tree. Or the Panther football games that he attended with lifelong friends that are simply called The Group. Or the trips he and mom were able to take to Greece, Ireland, Alaska before Alzheimer’s took that away. Or the “Leigh Ann, that is enough” and suddenly my 13 year old self understood that is was.

And then we keep him up-to-date about how life is continuing – we tell him about his grands and his great-grands, oldest daughter’s wedding plans, returning to the church of my childhood…we read to him, talk NC State football with him and ask him how he is. Sometimes there are words or sounds but not so much anymore. For the most part there is a smile that touches my soul and reminds me how proud I am to be his daughter and how honored I am to keep his memories

Memory keeping is a holy endeavor.

While Searching For The Fairies…

I found myself reminded recently of the power of awe to transform understanding and outlook. It happened while walking with my three-year old granddaughter. Her exuberance for all things buggy, wiggly and muddy made me stop and reconsider how I viewed the worm in the garden or the giant writing spider on the bean vines. She was enthralled. I was not – at least not at first!

The walk began as many of our outdoor adventures do with her wanting to draw a “road” using sidewalk chalk on our driveway. To create a path for her to run up and down – a practice started by her mom at the beginning of spring! It was genius, complete with a stop sign drawn at the end –  grand knows when she reaches the sign she has to turn around! How did youngest child get to be such a wise parent? Anyway, the road running lasted for a bit and then morphed into a game of where is the road taking us?

The road led, as all roads do, to where the fairies live – where else would a magical road created from chalk lead. But as everyone knows, to find fairies you have to move from driveways and sidewalks. You have to go where it is quiet and sheltered as fairies are skittish and need a place to hide. You have to move to grass, trees, flowers and woods.

So we tiptoed over to the rose bushes and looked under leaves, smelled the flowers and quietly reassured the fairies that we just wanted to play for the afternoon. We didn’t find them there but we did find a beetle – he was fascinating in his hard shell that seemed to change colors with the light. We watched him for some time.

But the fairies still called so we moved to the day lilies – maybe we would find an entire fairy village among their long green leaves and bright yellow flowers. As gently as we could we pushed back the stalks to see if any tiny houses or buildings lay beneath but no fairy village was to be found. Instead we found a dragonfly darting above and around the flowers. Her transparent wings were breathtaking. And so we stood and watched her for a bit before moving on.

Next stop was under the giant Magnolia tree that my parents planted over forty years ago. Surely fairies would be under the shade of the glossy leaves and fragrant blooms. “If I were a fairy, I would want to live here,” she said. There were no fairies  but we did see a bumble-bee hovering over the large white works of art that a Magnolia tree produces every year. We stopped and listened quietly to his buzz, buzzing and then thanked him for all his hard work before moving on!

The butterfly weed – that has to be the spot. As you guessed, no fairies but butterflies everywhere. We stood enchanted as they danced above the plants.

And then to the bright red bee balm which held no fairies but did have a hummingbird eating vigorously from the nectar they offered.

Last stop was to the potted plants on the patio. Maybe fairies like to live in small enclosed places that a terracotta pot containing bright red, summer geraniums could provide. We never fully made it to look in the pots as a group of small ants was moving around the patio at our feet. “Stop, Gigi!! We have to be careful where we step because they are little and we are so big!” she said. So we squatted there and watched the ants. They were busy moving here and there – we were mesmerized at their activity. I wonder where they are going, I asked. “Home to their families. That is why we have to be careful their moms and dads would be sad if they got hurt,” she said. Yes, indeed they would.

What would the world be like if we stopped, looked and listened with grateful and open hearts to the natural space, the created world around us more often. If we took a moment and remembered that everyone and every living thing is trying to get home to their families. If we remembered that we are so big and therefore need to step carefully. If we stopped to consider how our actions impact the lives of those we encounter.  From bugs to birds to babies – we are all connected. What would that world where life and lives are cherished look like?

It is worth imagining! It is worth working, hoping and praying for.

From one Gigi to all the other Gigi’s and Mimi’s and Granny’s… Nuna’s and Lolly’s and Oma’s our babies are worth it.

Our Daily Bread

This past winter I became obsessed with baking yeast breads. Before you get too excited by the thought of wonderful smells emanating from my kitchen, please understand that the reality didn’t quite live up to the expectation. Oh the smells were fantastic and many of the loaves were actually edible but none, NONE of them actually looked like the picture on Pinterest or the world-wide web where I found the recipes.

Part of my interest in making bread – homemade bread was for my family to be able to enjoy it with a nice bowl of hot soup. I loved the idea of them walking through the door – the aroma saying welcome there is comfort and love here. As the days warmed, I gave up my attempt to make the best yeast bread possible but will probably return to it once the leaves begin to turn. That is a warning for family – only fair that I should let them know what is coming.

The other reason for my incessant attempt to bake bread was in the connection that was created while making it.  Baking anything takes time – baking bread takes time and patience and attention. The process provided a space for me to pause, to be still. For me it became a kind of discipline – a prayer discipline. The mystery of bread rising (ok – not exactly a mystery for many of you) and the divine mystery of prayer were a powerful combination.

As I mixed the ingredients I would think of women across time and culture that had done the same. As my arm muscles worked to knead the dough I would imagine women sitting around a fire together, talking and creating. As I waited for the dough to rise I would see them moving on to another task – bouncing a baby perhaps or talking with a friend. I thought of all the women who had ever made bread – EVER.  I imagined them – I imagined my great-grandmother working over her bread bowl that now sits in my mother’s kitchen. I imagined.

As my hands moved over and through the dough, sticky with the gooey substance, I prayed. I prayed for mothers, for daughters, for sisters and friends ones that I knew and others that I didn’t. I prayed for children everywhere to have full bellies and a giggle waiting to be unleashed. I prayed for God’s Peaceable Kingdom – for Eden as it was meant. It was a powerful experience – one that taught me the value of allowing everyday activities to take me to a holy place, to a sacred space.

With anticipation I look toward autumn for the many gifts she has to share. I look forward to time spent indoors with family and friends around big pots of homemade soup.  And yes, I look forward to praying over bread for God’s created world to be as God intended.

So here is to more bagels, baguettes and breads!

(On a side note: as I write this my love is peering over my shoulder – asking if organizing closets could provide the same sacred connection through an everyday task. Somehow I think the answer to that is a resounding NO! But I’ll try anyway!)

I’m Still Here!

We have an annual family tradition in which we make our way back to the sea, stick our toes in the ocean and release the accumulated stress from the past year. I don’t know that it is a conscious releasing but if you listen closely, the exhale is audible and the accompanying smile radiant.

My children grew up going to the beach every summer. The waves that we jump are not waves but rather, “Whoa Nellie’s” as oldest girl first named them many years ago. I vividly remember standing on the beach, some two decades ago, watching my love playing with our girls in the sand and having this overwhelming understanding and feeling of contentment. That this, these connections, this love, this life was enough. I still believe that. Further, I believe that love growing from that place grounded in a greater Love can change the world but that is another topic. For this I want to focus on the sea and time.

Last year’s beach trip, the beach trip 2017 was bittersweet. I was told the day before we left that cancer had returned. A cancer that I had fought twice was back. I was told that I would have to return home midweek to meet with my gynecological oncologist to determine next steps.

We, my husband, two girls, their significant others, grand kids and my mom, left for the beach that Saturday morning with all of this in mind. We packed, we planned (or rather my love planned as is his way), we anticipated and we headed east.

I don’t remember cancer being given any special consideration on the trip – we didn’t alter plans (other than the doctor’s appointment) or make special accommodations to allow for her on the trip (not sure why cancer is female – something else to explore), but she was there. We still had dance parties with two year old grand on the deck in the evenings. We played in the sand, read books and jumped “whoa Nellies” as was our norm. But for me anyway, the realization of cancer’s return was there.

One afternoon after a long hot day at the ocean I remember returning to our rental house to take a shower. As I stood in there, using my finger I wrote on the shower door, “I was here” – past tense. And then I sobbed. Sat down on the shower floor, head in hands, gut-wrenching sobbed! I hadn’t really allowed myself to go to the possible finality of what a recurrence of primary peritoneal cancer could mean, but I worried that this time could be different.

I was initially diagnosed in October 2014 with triple negative breast cancer. As a result of genetic testing it was discovered that I am positive for the BRCA 1 mutation making me at great risk for future breast cancers as well as ovarian cancer. What followed my first cycle of chemotherapy was preventative surgeries: double mastectomy and hysterectomy. It was through these surgeries that it was discovered I also had primary peritoneal cancer. It is my belief that breast cancer saved my life! I healed from surgery and began a new round of chemotherapy. In July 2017, two years after treatment, primary peritoneal cancer had returned.

While the writings I offer in this space will not all be about cancer – it is a place to start. I have learned and grown a great deal as I have faced telling family and friends, endured treatments, watched priorities shift and ultimately faced my mortality.

“I was here”, caused me to pause, to remain soul still and ask myself, “yeah – what of it?” What had my life meant? What had I stood for either outwardly or by default? Was anyone or anything better because of my being here? Don’t go all “It’s A Wonderful Life” on me. That is not my intent here. My intent is that I understood in that moment the power of living or trying to live a called life. It isn’t enough to breathe in and out. It isn’t enough to take up space on the planet we are called to more.

I’m pleased to share that beach trip 2018 was fabulous! I finished third cycle of chemotherapy in December 2017 and have a little wild hair on my head. A new drug has been introduced to try to help prevent future recurrence. While it is just a pill, it is in many ways, kicking my fanny!

The sitting on the beach was once again healing and cathartic, a swim in the ocean baptismal. We sang silly songs with grands, played in the sand, went for long walks through a maritime forest and talked wedding plans for our oldest child’s winter wedding!

This year I wrote in the steam on the shower door, “I AM HERE!” With much study, reflection, reading, prayer, contemplation, waiting in silence, walking through woods, digging in dirt, etc.,; a year later I know that being here means I am asked to lend my voice, my back, my wallet and my life for the things that God loves.

For the rest of my days, while I am still here, I hope to spend it asking God about loving and caring for all that God holds dear.

Join me?