A Trip to Plains

“Why don’t we go to Jimmy Carter’s Sunday School Class?”  I asked.

The idea came up fast.  I’d just read an interview with Carter in the newspaper and was reminded of his Sunday morning classes, taught almost weekly at Maranatha Baptist Church in his hometown of Plains, Georgia.  Since we live only five and a half hours from Plains, the decision to go was easy.  In an instant (unlike most decisions we make) Rick and I began preparing for our trip!

Included in our plans was a several-hour stop in Savannah, Georgia, a city we had wanted to visit for some time.  We arrived on Saturday morning, barely in time to honor our reservations for a bicycle tour of the beautiful downtown.  After a delicious lunch and a walk in a downtown park, we traveled to a small town near Plains where we stayed overnight.  Awakening to a five-thirty Sunday morning alarm, we dressed, downed a bit of breakfast, and arrived at the church by 6:30 a.m., where we waited for the eight a.m. seating in the sanctuary.

Prior to the class, one of the church’s members led us in an orientation and information session.   I learned that the class hosted attendees from a variety of states as well as a number of countries, including France, Panama, Germany, Guatemala, and India.  (We were told that at one of Carter’s recent classes, forty-eight countries were represented!)

During this orientation, I learned more than I’d known before about the Carters’ generosity and commitment to peace between nations and wellness for all people.  The Carters, Jimmy and Rosalynn, have given to others through teaching, writing, working for human rights, and building homes for Habitat for Humanity.  Through their Foundation, the Carter Center, they have alleviated suffering from disease around the world.

As Carter began his class, his soft-spoken and caring message filled the sanctuary with a gentle, kind atmosphere.   The audience listened to this wise and thoughtful man who spoke with humility and breadth of knowledge.  Never preachy or dogmatic, Carter opened the hearts and minds of his audience, reminding us that everyone can choose to become better persons.

I left the church that morning inspired, grateful, and hopeful.  Many thanks to Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter for their selfless, caring work.

Maranatha Baptist Church, Plains, GA
Maranatha Baptist Church, Plains, GA.   Photo J. Stanton

 

Carter Teaches
Jimmy Carter teaches a Sunday School class.   Photo J. Stanton

 

Carters and Stantons
Rick and I with the Carters.

 

Each New Day

I love the mornings,

the dark slowly rolling up its blanket,

awakening the light,

giving birth to a new day

honored for its invitation

to breathe, once again, the fresh breath

of opportunity,

to learn from its wisdom.

 

Smoky Mountains
Pausing to reflect in the Smoky Mountains. Summer 2015.  Photo JStanton.

Reconciling Grief: Choosing Proper Conditions

Everything is gestation and then bringing forth.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Winters are long in Minnesota.  Some years ago, however, winter seemed especially long.  I grew weary of its icy temperatures, sidewalks, and streets.  According to the calendar, spring had come over a month ago, but I was not convinced that it had—or that it would.

Then one day in May, temperatures climbed and the sun beamed.  The first real spring day had arrived!  As I looked around outdoors, I noticed an almost magical transformation around me: hosta plants poking through our backyard soil, buds forming on our red maple tree, and multi-colored tulips adorning neighborhood yards.

At last spring had broken through winter’s grasp!  But spring had been there all along, waiting, poised on the verge of breaking through winter’s hold.  Springtime life could not blossom until the proper conditions of warm temperatures and radiant sunshine had appeared.

When we grieve, we may wonder if we will ever feel good again.  Our grief, like winter, may linger long and become tiresome.  Though our grief will last as long as it needs to, we can facilitate the process toward new life by choosing “proper conditions.”  We too can choose a warm, nurturing climate: a safe, supportive setting of love, compassion, and understanding.

And perhaps we can offer these proper conditions to others—in an encouraging word or a listening ear—and assist them in emerging from their soul’s winter bleakness into new springtime life.

Red Maple 1
Red Maple tree in Minnesota backyard. Photo JStanton

 

Discerning the Bridge Run

It took me months to decide.  Could I really participate in Charleston’s Cooper River Bridge Run?

This 10K run, a major event held annually in Charleston, draws thousands of runners every year from Charleston and beyond. Even before I moved to Charleston I wondered if I’d ever run (and be able to run) this significant race.  When the April fourth Bridge Run approached this year, I faced a decision.  Would I make this run a reality for me?

Three Months Prior

I began early to train for this run, hoping my progress would tell me whether or not I could compete.  I set a goal to run 6.2 miles by early March, about one month before the race.  I did not make that goal.  I had trained at 4, 4.5, and 5 miles, but had not reached 10K yet.  I began to think that I probably would not run this race, and a part of me felt disappointed, in myself mostly.

One Week Before

Time was getting close.  I needed to make a decision soon in order to register.  So one morning I sat down on my beloved back porch and tried to discern about the wisdom of doing this race.  I asked myself these questions:

What is really holding me back?    Fear, mostly.

Do I want fear to limit myself?  Do I always want to remain in my comfort zone?  No.  I want to push myself a bit.  I want to stretch to a new level.  Yes, I want to set a goal that would push and stretch me, but would do so safely.

Do I have the ability to perform at this level?   I’d done a few 10K races in the past but not with this steep elevation.   I decided to go to the gym and test out my ability on the treadmill.

With the treadmill set at a significant slope, I ran 6.2 miles.  At one point, I had to slow down and cool off, but I did complete the distance.   My decision was made.  I’m going to run the Bridge Run.  I came home, registered, and began to chronicle the thoughts, feelings, fears, and events of the week before the race.

March 28, Six Days Before

It was a hot Monday afternoon when I completed five outdoor miles on my run.  My pulse kept elevating, probably due to the heat, and my legs felt tired.  It was a hard run, but I held on to the hope that I could complete the upcoming race.  I won’t know if I can do it, I thought, until I do it.

March 30-31, Two – Three Days Before

It was the Wednesday before the race when I became sick, fighting some kind of virus. I became concerned because I knew I could not do this difficult run with less than 100% physical energy and well-being. By Thursday evening I was feeling much better.  But I also felt alternately scared and excited.   I was ready to stop thinking about this race and do it!

April 1, The Day Before

That afternoon I went to the Expo to pick up my bib and other materials.  Accompanied by my husband Rick, I enjoyed looking at the various booths selling all things running: shoes, clothes, treats.  Excitement was the mood of the day.

The weather, however, proved to be a concern.  All week forecasts had shown the likelihood of rain Saturday morning, but on Friday evening a tornado watch was posted in Charleston.  No race would be held in threatening weather, and I watched the weather updates closely.  The watch passed late in the evening but rain would be present for the race, making decisions about how to dress for the race  more complicated.  The evening was filled with anxiety.  Would I even sleep?  I did, but not much.

April 2, Race Day

On race day I got up at 4:15 a.m., checked the weather, dressed for the race, ate breakfast and headed out the door to North Charleston, where I caught the shuttle that would take me to the starting line.  This would be a busy race, with nearly 36,000 people participating.

Runners waited in their “corral” or “wave” for the start of the race.  Assigned to a later wave and surrounded by other sleep-deprived runners, I slowly advanced to the start line.  At the “go,” we took off, looking ahead for the anticipated Ravenel Bridge.

The 4.1% slope up the bridge is nearly one mile long, and the longer I ran, the more tired my legs felt.  Nevertheless, I was determined to keep running and I did, though slowly.  What a relief to reach the top and head back down, but at that point I was only half-way finished. I had another three miles to go.  One foot in front of the other.  Every step a closer arrival to the goal.  And that’s how I finished the 39th Annual Cooper River Bridge Run!

Now it was time to sit down and enjoy a bagel and banana.  And that’s exactly what I did.

What Did I Learn?

Bring my own water next year.  Hydration was an issue and part of my struggle out on the course.

Strengthen those quads!  The quadriceps want to be your best friend on that bridge!

Feel good about my accomplishment.    Running encourages me to challenge myself beyond what I think I can do.  Perhaps there is something about the human spirit that wants to soar, transcend itself, and running does this for me.

Enjoy your next goals.  I enjoy setting goals and immersing myself in a meaningful project. Choosing this race helped me move past my fear, something that has never been easy for me.  I can let this memory help me apply this lesson to other parts of my life, reminding me that a fulfilling life sometimes involves risk-taking.

Will I Run this Race in the Future?

I hope so!  This race will always be a challenge that’s waiting for me, calling me to stretch just a little more…and a little more.

Bridge run

 

 

 

The Journey of Grief

Once in a while I read a book that’s more than good or even great.  Over the course of years I’ve read a few books that seemed to have deep personal significance and whose impact usually took me by surprise.

I just finished such a book.  Letters from Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman is a compilation of letters written by daughters whose mothers have died, whether in the past year or more than twenty years ago.  Having lost my mother thirty-five years ago, I was interested in following the reflections of these women.

I could not put this book down.  The letters, written with passionate, emotional honesty and depth, expressed the grief they experienced–and still experience—with their mother’s death, and how it had influenced the future direction of their lives.   Many felt that the choices they made (not always good), other familial relationships (sometimes troublesome), and their own mothering issues were influenced by their mother’s death and the grief that followed.  Their stories testified to the fact that grief is not a linear process, but a cyclical journey. 

One of the most interesting things I learned was something called the “correspondence phenomenon.”  Coined by psychologist Therese Rando, correspondence phenomenon refers to the threshold when daughters reach the same age when their mother died.  Like a spark in the night, this ignited my attention.  I suddenly realized that I’m now at the age of my mother’s death.  I wondered, Is this why I’m drawn to reading this book about motherless daughters?   Is this why, a few months ago, my grief surfaced, unexpectedly, as I sat on my back porch facing the woods?  (See “The Wisdom of the Wild Woods”).

Reading Letters from Motherless Daughters was a spiritual experience that centered me deeply.  My feelings of grief were unearthed, and I usually read with damp eyes, but it was not a sad experience.  Instead, I learned more about myself, and I felt grateful to have discovered the quiet grief—and the continued love– I still carry for my mother.

 100_1808

 

The Journey toward Home

Seven months ago Rick and I moved from our home of many years in Minneapolis to a new home in Charleston.  This passage from one home to another was an enormous undertaking, overwhelming at times, but it was also a journey of joy, anticipation, and excitement.  After these seven months, we’ve found ourselves involved with the adventure of creating a new place that we now call home.

The word “home” has long intrigued me.  Full of emotion, desire, and longing, home characterizes our human yearning for love, acceptance, support, meaning, and belonging.   As the late poet Maya Angelou said, “the ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”   Yes, we long to be home, and we long to live “at home” within ourselves, wherever we may be.

I’ve been reading about the thoughts and feelings of others who have pondered the meaning of home.  For them, home can be characterized this way:

  • Where you are with family, friends and neighbors and feel loved, accepted and supported. On the contrary, homelessness means feeling unloved, unseen, unheard, unacknowledged.
  • Where you feel at peace, know you belong, and experience a sense of wholeness. Home is where you remove those uncomfortable shoes and be your needy old self.
  • Where you can easily and freely express yourself and can say outrageous things without fear of judgment or anger.
  • Where you can learn about yourself.
  • Where certain roles, such as parent, instill a sense of home, as do rituals and traditions.
  • Where spiritual practices that foster love, healing and health are performed and respected. These may include meditation, entertaining, reading, writing, exercise, cooking, creating, traveling, or whatever connects us to our deeper selves.

In reading these descriptions, it’s apparent that home is more than an external place.  Home is within each of us, and connecting to its gifts of joy, peace, comfort, and love is a journey, an archetypal pilgrimage depicted in some of our favorite myths and stories.  Its call is a universal one, but one that we take up individually.

I tend to think this journey never really ends.  We can always mature, deepen, and open ourselves to the possibility of increased wholeness, moving us ever deeper toward our inner home.  Though it requires work and courage, it’s a journey worth traversing.

 

monarch

Ode to the Live Oak

Is it not a paradox?

How does this tree,

this Live Oak,

with its thick dense trunk of hard wood

anchored securely in the earth,

stand tall, strong and proud

while its reclining, gnarly branches

stretch out and kneel humbly

against the ground?

 

How does it do both?

How does it be both–

tall and proud,

broad and humble?

How does it risk being itself?

So fully itself?

 

It’s anchored,

secure

immovable

grounded.

It can afford the twin risks

of humility and reverence.

 

Maybe someday I’ll hang a picture of this compelling tree,

and on those days when I walk that

precarious tightrope of frailty,

I’ll remember:  Stay grounded.

 

On clear days the sun’s rays stream

through window-like spaces

between its branches,

illuminating the ground below with

a speckled mix of light and shade,

like life, to be sure.  A mix.

 

Maybe one day I’ll sit under its canopy,

be present to its sanctuary-type presence,

and rest in its marvelous contradiction

of being.

Angel Oak 1
Angel Live Oak, Charleston, SC