In the second week of September I escaped to an island for two whole nights. Not a tropical island but a northern Michigan island filled with trails, woods and empty beaches. Tourist season was over, a perfectly timed escape. Two dear friends and I boarded the Emerald Isle car ferry from Charlevoix and headed northwest to Beaver Island. Lake Michigan was wild that day and the boat rolled over 5 foot waves causing me to widen my stance while standing at the front deck to keep from falling. I felt filled with joy and adventure - a much needed break from work and busy schedule at home. Something about traveling by boat made this trip seem exotic and much farther away from home than I actually was. Arriving at the island transported me back in time. A few scattered people stood at the dock waving a friendly greeting. We shuffled to get our gear and bikes as our hostess was there to greet us and drive our luggage up to our destination - The Brother's Place a rustic north woods lodge formerly operated as a retreat house by the Christian Brothers religious order. I have always wanted to be a nun at Nonnatus house from Call the Midwife and settling into my little cell (room) I felt like a novice entering the womb of a warm convent. Each room was uniquely decorated with a theme; nautical, poet's, yellow flowers.... I chose the Mother and Child room filled with sweet icons from many decades of the holy mother and child. My breath slowed....my breath deepened. I settled in. My days were filled with solitude, walking trails, bike riding, sharing meals with my friends, jumping in the cool sparkling water, and hiking to catch sunrise and sunsets, both visible from the island. I found it delightful that our rental car was parked in town in front of the grocery store with the keys in it. No need to lock doors around the island. Town was walking distance away and I found the quaint Catholic church open day and night. I would visit before dawn in the quiet and light a candle for those I love and pray in the dusky light. The gift of the trip was that I entered into a different time, a slower rhythm. Island life helped to bring my rushed spirit to a halt. On the day I was to leave, I felt a sadness within me. Riding the ferry back to the mainland I waved goodbye to my island retreat and let a tear fall to consecrate and honor my remorse at returning to my life, a life I do truly love. My quest is to bring some of the pace of island life into my life at home. Today I sat on my deck and enjoyed a cup of coffee while listening to the rain. I thought to myself.... I can have my island state of mind right here on my own deck. I can carve out peace wherever I am. May it be so.
I spent a lazy day in the kayak on a small mostly undiscovered inland lake. There were a few fisher people motoring slowly around and I enjoyed drifting and listening to the sounds of the bugs and birds as they sped over the water. Up ahead on the water I spotted two loons. I am respectful of wild creatures so did not approach them but simply began singing a little song of greeting wondering if the loons would respond. And respond they did! I continued to float where I was as I began to sing and the loons began to swim closer to me. A dream come true! As a singer I have loved the beautiful and haunting song of the loons since I was a child. They seemed to respond to my voice and began to sing along with me. I felt so honored and humbled. As I sang, I sent the loons love and gratitude for allowing me to share this experience. We sang for several minutes and when I stopped my little song they swam off. I looked up the various loon sounds and discovered that I was hearing the tremolo, which is known as the "crazy laugh". It can signify alarm or disturbance or even greeting. My hope is we were greeting each other since the loons approached me of their own volition. In humility I must admit the possibility of them telling me to go away from their piece of paradise. But it was a magical moment, one I have dreamed of for many years in my adventures on the waters. I will treasure this sacred moment with them for the rest of my life. God's creation is a fascinating, awe-inspiring miracle every time I am open to receiving. Here is the video I took from my kayak. Enjoy the loons.
Coming home from a long day's work I was looking for a simple and nourishing meal - food to feed both body and soul. Enter frozen cauliflower pizza crust - thank you Meijer. I am always creating new ways to increase our vegetable intake as a family and was pleased with the taste and texture of cauliflower pizza crust. My mom had made one from scratch, which was equal parts delicious and arduous labor. So I found a runner up version at my local grocery in the frozen "gluten free" section. I spread the crust with pesto (sadly and sheepishly not from scratch today.....shhhh) then topped with mozzarella and very finely chopped arugula and radish which the kids would normally never eat. A mixed green salad from our farm share and homemade ranch dressing completed our easy meal in 20 minutes. The pizza came out of the oven smelling wonderfully of garlic and basil. We waited for everyone to be seated, a simple but surprisingly challenging task. As I am seated I feel the urge to just dive in and let the others fend for themselves. I love this custom of waiting for everyone, though, which honors the sacredness of each person present and the food to be shared together. It causes me to wait, to slow down, and then to give thanks for not only the food but our family gathered. My husband has brought this gift to our family. Then we pray...."Bless us, Oh Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive, from Thy Bounty, through Christ, our Lord, Amen." What a gift to pause and be present to this miracle of food and family. I also pause and pray when eating alone. And an added benefit is I find I digest my food better! Every table is a place of blessing, every meal a chance to take in the nourishing love of God. May you enjoy a simple, healthy and lovely meal with those you love this week.
The blessings and bliss of vacation. My daughter and I shared a beautiful time in Florida over spring break unplugging from the busy, hectic, sometimes frantic pace of our lives at home. Sleeping in with no alarm but the birds and the slant of the sun coming through the window of the patio by our bedroom was pure joy. It took about four nights for me to completely unwind and relax my rhythm, slowing from a frenzied tempo to a slow waltz. What a delight to have nowhere to go and simply let the day unfold over a cup of English tea. We swam, walked a nearby beach looking for shells, read books and ate healthy meals created by my aunt and uncle who are superior hosts. One day they treated us to a dolphin and snorkel tour. After seeing some wondrous sea creatures we encountered a manatee who was drawn to my daughter (who I think is part mermaid). She had a manatee encounter two years ago when a baby manatee approached her on another guided tour and munched on her long golden hair. We say she has manatee magic. This time, the manatee approached her as she swam and simply looked at her with curiosity and friendliness. It was a God moment, the kind of magical occurrence which God orchestrates which touches the soul and lasts a lifetime.
I realized the importance of making time and space for these such moments and allowing God to surprise us in our daily lives, as well as on vacation. I have made a pledge to create more open space in my life, sabbath time, when my mind and schedule are free, less cluttered, so that I can receive the blessings and whisperings of the Spirit in my life at home. In my work as chaplain, I met an old woman recently who wisely observed, "People are moving about so quickly these days; I wonder for what gain, and at what cost." Indeed!
I must add that this vacation was much needed after months of caring for my husband and feeling utterly depleted. Both my daughter and I felt as if we were recovering from PTSD. This time away would not have been possible if it were not for the amazing renewal of my husband, due to much prayer, clean diet, caregiving and a high powered chemo agent. He was able to stay alone while we were gone, which is no minor miracle. He cooked, cared for the home and even walked the dog! This, after he was passing away last fall. Words cannot capture our relief.
Life is a beautiful mystery, sometimes short, or long, with waves and storms and magical encounters with the Divine along the way. Here's to many more mermaid - manatee encounters. May we continue to give space and time to allow God to surprise us and love us into wholeness.
I have already written about my husband Brian battling cancer. Here are some more facts about him that I have not shared yet. Brian was diagnosed with cancer in 2016, and by that time it was already stage four, metastatic prostate cancer spread to bones. Brian dealt with this shocking and terrifying discovery as he did everything else, with absolute trust that he was in God's hands and all would be well. His entire life has been about living his faith to the fullest while living and loving with every fiber of his being. Needless to say, this can be maddening to live with. I have had many fearful days of crying out to an invisible God and hearing only silence. Faced with the same diagnosis I would have begun to make videos of myself talking to the kids that they could watch on future special occasions when I would not be present like weddings and birth of babies. But not Brian. He would simply trust, pray with all his might, and smile. At one point he abandoned all treatment, relying on prayer, essential oils and healthy diet. He felt strongly in his heart that he was being led by God and Mary to do this, though I did not feel any such peace about it. My feeling was terror, mixed with anger about his selfishness and lack of consideration for my reality, as well as our daughters. It was the hardest thing I have ever done to stand by him during those months, as he wasted away on a single bed in our bedroom becoming completely immobile while I cared for him. Nights become filled with dread as I became exhausted helping him, listening to his moaning since he also abandoned all pain meds, and comforting our girls as they each grieved and worried with many tears and questions. I had many questions also, though I was powerless to change Brian's mind and heart. I was forced into a place of complete trust also, though a much different path.
Then one weekend our eldest daughter came home from college to surprise Brian. After seeing him dying and withering away in our bedroom, she sobbed and pleaded with all her love and heart for Brian to seek medical assistance. Brian's cancer is not curable with medical intervention but treatable for pain relief and extending life expectancy. After seeing her great distress, Brian agreed if he was not healed miraculously by the end of the weekend he would seek medical help again. Monday morning came and there was no divine healing so with Brian's permission I called 911 and Brian went by ambulance to the hospital where he began palliative radiation and hormone injections. He did a complete switch from his previous path, though he felt peace about it since he had given full commitment to his faith. God must have a different sort of miracle in mind. Brian handled the treatment and humbling hospital experience with much grace. At one point, the nurse was giving Brian his daily steroid injection in his stomach and said, "I'm so sorry..." Brian said to him, "it's okay...this is reality right now and a beautiful thing". Brian almost smiled during the injection, and typically would ask to hold and pray over any medicine going into his body prior to the nurse administering it. I joked with the kids that their dad could have a job praying over everyone's medicine at the hospital; certainly most people would rather have a medicine that had been blessed and prayed over.
We came home 11 days later, after much help, treatment, physical therapy and caring from friends and family. (Thank you for all the soup, dear ones! You know who you are. xoxo) Brian continues to gain strength and can get up again with his walker and move around. I brought him outside for the first time before work this week and he walked in circles around the small paved area in our driveway, taking in the colors and beauty with the delight of a child or someone who has been to death's door and is now back. His eyes well with tears as he looks at the sky and speaks about his daughters. He is full of love and gratitude for each day. He treats every person with love and he continues to trust each day, that his life is in God's hands. The girls and I are full of relief, sleeping more soundly and breathing more deeply for the first time in many months. We are letting all the stress and fear drain away. The future is not certain, but we are reveling in the gift of more time. Each day a gift to unwrap and smile.
There is a small piece of state land adjacent to my house with a beautiful path circling through it. I have walked that path many times, at all times of the day. You could find me walking the path at daybreak when the kids were little. In summer I would have one of the kids in the backpack or baby jogger. And in winter, I pulled my younger daughter behind me while cross country skiing, in a red plastic sled where she would sit and gather piles of snow around her as we glided along in silence. We picked a small pine tree and decorated it each winter on Christmas Eve for the birds and animals with pine cones we had rolled in peanut butter and sunflower seeds. It was such a joy to place them on the tree as a gift to the animals then watch the cones swinging in the wind on their shiny red ribbons for weeks after the holiday had passed. Of course there was mountain biking, four wheeling and snowmobiling also. And lots of prayer, with tears mixed in.
When I first heard about the clear cut, I became fearfully angry. I came up with a plan to save our treasured forest. My husband wrote the forester, pleading for a change in location. It was too late. The cut was all set to happen. We could only wait and grieve the expected loss of our refuge. I felt so helpless. Then one day, the equipment showed up and the cutting began. A few innocent men doing their jobs and some huge trucks and tractors. The speed with which they cut and cleared was astonishing. It reminded me of a Dr. Seuss book, The Lorax. Within a matter of days, it was decimated.
As I watched, I could not help but liken it to my own life. My life as I have known it has fallen apart. Our family has been changed as we battle the changes which have come with my husband's cancer, which has robbed him of much of his ability to function. Loss comes on sometimes suddenly, and we are called to sit with the grief which follows. I was never good on change, nor trusting. But here I am, being ripped of the familiar life I once had, and trusting in the goodness of God - no matter what the outcome.
I took a video of the cutting of a favorite tree, crying as I held my cell phone while I crept onto the land.
Then, weeks later after the trucks and noise had all gone away, I walked the land again, smelling the strong scent of fallen pine washing over me. It was starkly different and it was challenging to find my old trail. But I forged one. Surprisingly, the trees cleared left a new landscape. One with more view. There were hills I never realized were there and I found it oddly beautiful. A different kind of beautiful. I am hoping and praying that the steep journey I am faced with and the stripping bare of my life will produce the same. A different kind of beautiful.
When I face the most painful losses in my life I have two callings. The first is to be present to the pain of it, to hold it with the tender compassion of my mothering self. The second is to trust in the love of God, and the infinite wisdom of the unseen. The scripture from Jeremiah returns to me again and again, given to me by an old wise woman nun many years ago...
"For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me, if you seek me with all your heart. I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place form which I sent you into exile." Jer 29:11-14
This is my rock cairn I made while at sleeping bear dunes. I have made a commitment to myself this summer to play and take care of myself while I am caring for my husband with cancer. Beach time heals and restores my spirit. I find that the Spirit speaks most plainly to me while I am quiet (which is a most difficult challenge with the demands upon my time each day) and while I am in nature. It seemed all my stress was suspended as I worked on this little rock tower. I was engrossed in finding just the right rock, like a child giving full attention to some critical task. I hope to use this blog to share some of my experiences taking care of myself while caring for my beloved. It is a very hard time and very necessary for me to stay healthy. I hope you are inspired to take loving care of yourself too whatever stressors are before you. My greatest challenge on this journey has been to trust that God is present and building my life, through joy and through suffering. May we travel together into this mystery.
It has been a long time since I have written. Much change, much busy-ness. I have been facing my own mortality as well as that of my beloved. I have been reflecting on where I have been and where I have yet to go. Perhaps menopause is a gift in that way, since my body gives me the cues that a part of my life is ending, preparing me for clearing out the old, grieving what is lost and reaching for what I still long for. It seems grief is a friend to me these days, sitting next to me as if invited in to share a cup of tea. Sometimes I would rather shoo her out, though most days I invite her to stay and just be with me. It seems old dysfunction I thought I had left behind yet pushes through my willful defenses to go away. Control, fear, insecurity.... show up by surprise and flow out upon my words like unwelcome dark strangers. I accept this as awful opportunity and I seek to look at all in the light of day, the light of the holy which continues to fill and surround me with the good news of rebirth and saving grace. My intent is to write more music and connect it to this blog. A singing blog. I need some guidance on technology on how to make it happen. Blessings to you, wherever you are in your day. Kathryn
I pray that my writing will be a blessing to someone. I continue to work to live in to the present moment. Earlier in the week I said my morning prayers and wrote in my journal and had determination to look to God each moment in my day. Less than an hour later, both my daughter and I were in tears after a painful interchange. I realized that I can have the best of intentions but unless I continually open myself to God and am praying through every interchange, I flounder. It was not enough to be centered and pray at the beginning of my day, though I am sure that helped. I need to carry my intention, and breathe God into every situation, every word, every action in my day.
I also discovered that I am very hard on myself if I feel like I failed to love someone as I am called. I spiral into a cave of sadness, heaviness, darkness. While there, I found myself comforting myself...."It's okay....it's okay....you are loved." It was my own voice, but truly the voice of God, like a mother soothing her crying child. This love soaked into me, and I felt better.
I would like to be transformed beyond my reactionary nature, but while God is working on me, live into forgiveness and acceptance of myself. Transformation of the world starts with me.