14/50: Florida

IMG_2239.JPGFor most of this trip, each time I wake up, I experience a moment of deep disorientation. I realize I’m either sleeping at a friend’s house or in a hotel but I always pause as I collect myself and try to remember where I am. Generally I list about five states in my head, wondering if that’s where I am… Am I there now or was that yesterday? Am I there now or am I just anticipating heading there tomorrow?

Spending hours driving through each state is helpful in grounding me a bit more to where I am. In a world where transportation is much quicker and easier than it once was, we can be transported from one place to another quite rapidly. The fact that I can travel to all the states in a condensed amount of time speaks to this phenomenon.

IMG_2234.JPGContinuing with the theme of place, I have learned that transitioning from one place to another is a significant movement. It has an impact on our physical bodies, our emotions, our minds, and our spiritual beings (in short, it impacts us completely and fully). It is important to mark these transitions. It is easier for us, however to pass through each phase and transition and simply look ahead to what is next (and wondering why angst or other feelings seem to be building up because we haven’t paid attention to the transition we have made).

As I have been travelling, I have found that taking photos, posting photos, journalling and blogging have been key in marking these transitions to each place. I try to stop at each visitor center to take a picture with their state sign. Since I enjoy talking to myself when I’ve been on my own for extended amounts of time, I even try to talk to myself in the accent that is typical of where I am (except it likely doesn’t sound a thing like it and then I proceed to admonish myself to stop speaking with an accent…).

IMG_2241.JPGDriving through Florida felt like a really long driving day (the fact that I added two hours to it in the morning by visiting that plantation in Louisiana didn’t help- although it was totally worth it). I saw the Gulf of Mexico for the first time and drove along its coast. I enjoyed super cool cloud formations in the sky. I enjoyed the beauty of the dark and brooding skies warning of coming rain. I loved the intermittent pounding rain as I drove. I was in awe at the beauty of the sunset through the mix of rain and clear skies. I enjoyed all the different types of trees along the road. I pulled over whenever I saw something interesting and enjoyed the feel of moving my leg muscles again.

IMG_2257.JPGI arrived at my destination on the coast really late. After a mishap at check-in (apparently they had cancelled my reservation without telling me), I dropped into bed and slept soundly. When I woke up the next morning I was in a blur as to where I was. To get to Florida I drove through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and so it makes sense that it took me a while to remember I was in Florida.

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IMG_2266.JPGI went for a long walk on the beach. I hugged a couple palm trees (actually). Through walking, it was a good means for grounding myself in the place where I currently was and to continue processing all that has been in my heart and mind as I have gone along. It was helpful in giving myself space to be fully present where I was and to soak it all in.

Grace and space are vital as we transition from one place to another. Whether this be grief & loss and processing everything that comes with it or a regular transition of life from one season to another, it is important to mark these moments and to recognize that they will often have an impact on us far deeper than we initially perceive. One day I was in Louisiana and the next day I was in Florida. And the next day I was in Georgia, but more on that later.

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13/50: Louisiana

As I get older, I realize the deep significance of place.

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There is something to be said about being in a place. Emotions are evoked as we return to places that are full of memories, whether good or bad. It seems our bodies are even aware of it, especially when we return to the places where we can breathe freely again.

The familiarity of place brings up emotions often just by being there. I appreciate the mystery that is often beyond our comprehension and awareness. We are affected by different places without always being aware of it or able to control it.

IMG_1968.JPGI am becoming increasingly more aware of the significance of place. Yet, I was still surprised how deeply I felt it while in Louisiana despite the fact that I have never been to Louisiana. My mom went quite a few years ago and she came back laden with stories and pictures to share. She recounted her experiences and how she was impacted by them. She related through deep laughter, various funny events that had taken place. She described the delicious food she shared and enjoyed. She loved New Orleans and whenever someone mentioned it, she would pipe up with glowing reports of her time spent there.

IMG_1994.JPGNeedless to say, I had great anticipation for my time in New Orleans. Although I wasn’t a fan of the crazy party scene, I appreciated walking around the different areas, taking the trolley, eating beignets by the river, enjoying Creole and Southern dishes, listening to live jazz, being enthralled by people watching and in general just enjoying taking everything in.

FullSizeRender.jpg-1As I walked around, there was significance in knowing I was walking on some of the streets my mom walked on. I looked into stores and guessed at things she had probably wanted to buy (and some of which she did indeed buy). I heard different comments she might make running through my mind as I watched and observed. I deeply wanted to share my moments and pictures with her. I longed to text her and comment on things she had talked about. However, there was an acknowledgement of the fact that just by partaking in all these things that she had enjoyed, I was sharing them with her.

IMG_2122.JPGI also went on a swamp tour and got to see alligators and explore a bayou. Although I don’t think my mom went on a swamp tour, I could imagine what her comments would be. Memories flooded back from our time in Kenya & Tanzania and her commentary about the animals we saw. (Every animal she saw, she liked to proclaim how that animal looked like it had been in a fight… I figured I would conclude the same for the alligators). I chuckled inwardly, imagining what her response would have been to the alligators, wild pigs, swamp canaries and giant spiders we saw. I know what she would say as we floated past the houses built on stilts right along the water. On the way back, it poured rain and there was a big thunderstorm. I got soaked but felt like sitting in the rain was a way of soaking it all in.

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IMG_6069The next morning I backtracked in order to visit Oak Alley Plantation. It was absolutely beautiful and I arrived right when it opened so had the front oak tree walkway to myself. I got to watch a family of six foxes playing in the lawn next to the trees. They are generally not out when people are there but I was quiet and just watched them. Later they ran into their fox hole which is under one of the giant oak trees. Standing there watching them wrestling on the lawn was again one of those suspended moments in time where there is deep delight and God’s presence is felt deeply. This is a place I will also remember and cherish. Walking through the plantation grounds and house and hearing all the stories also made me miss my mom and knowing what her responses would have been was again strong. She would have absolutely loved the beauty of the trees and the history of that place.

IMG_6079I am adding all my new memories from Louisiana to the memories I hold that my mom passed on to me. The part of her legacy that lives on in me once again took everything in and treasured it deep within.

I am so thankful for the significance of place: those we have been to a thousand times, and those we are discovering for the first time, yet following in the footsteps of those who have gone before us. I am holding dear to my memories and my experience of place in Louisiana.

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12/50: Mississippi

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One of my favourite places to visit while traveling are cemeteries. Strange perhaps, but a trip somewhere that includes walking around a cemetery brings me great joy.

So, when I visited Vicksburg in Mississippi, I was pretty excited to see that they have a number of different cemeteries full of rich history and stories of people who have been part of that history. They have a national cemetery that sprawls across their national park, honouring those who lost their lives in battle. I drove around visiting the different ones, walking around and taking in the depth, wonder and beauty that can be found in a cemetery.

This may seem strange to you. I can’t fully articulate all the reasons why I love cemeteries so much. There is great mystery in it but as I continue to visit them, I understand their depth and value even more.

Cemeteries contain history. They represent people who lived and impacted the world around them in a plethora of ways. They are memorials to the stories of individuals and their families. They speak to the legacy that follows one’s life.

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When I’m in really old cemeteries, I’m always struck by the depth of loss that some families went through. Lots of families are buried together and so you see when different family members die. Lots of children died far too soon. Parents died, leaving children behind. Amidst all this loss, life has gone on. Perhaps some family members followed closely after others, but there was life amidst the loss.

Each name represent deep grief and loss. It represents an individual who was deeply loved and significant. Grief is a lonely road on many levels because one’s grief process will depend on oneself but also on the type of relationship with the person who died. It is a unique journey for each person. At the same time though, in a cemetery, there is a sense of shared grief. Others have known loss. Others have walked through loss. People have continued to live meaningful lives in the wake of death and sorrow. There is a shared grief in humanity and as I take in the tombstones and the grief & loss they represent, I am not alone in my grief. My grief is connected with theirs as theirs is with mine. I can bring my grief and the memories of those I have lost and weep with those who have wept before me.

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There is deep hope in these places too. Love and life triumph. Cemeteries represent life and love and the journeys each one of us embarks on and the ways in which our paths cross and the fact that our lives influence one another. Loss connects us and reveals that we are connected, otherwise we would not feel grief in the face of loss.

Each tombstone represents an individual created in God’s image whose legacy and impact continue beyond the grave. As I walk around, there is a sense of awe and respect for those who have lived before me, for those who have lost before me. I am thankful that I am not alone on the journey of grief.

Facing death is part of being able to engage life more fully. Cemeteries hold no pretense. They are not hiding or glossing over death. The reality of death is there and must be confronted. Acknowledging death and also that it does not have the last word, leads us to life. It leads us to deep hope.

I leave you with a poem from one of my favourite poets, John Donne:

Death, be not proud
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell’st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

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11/50: Arkansas

Arkansas has always intrigued me because of its name. Kansas is pronounced with the s but Arkansas is pronounced with a ‘w’ sound at the end. Well, Kansas was the English spelling of a Native American tribe whereas Arkansas is the French spelling of a similar tribe (or that’s what the internet tells me at least). Regardless, every time I saw it written, I would say “Arkansauce” to myself and chuckle at how funny I am. I think this is a sign of me being by myself for too long.

IMG_1847.JPGI digress. Arkansas was lovely. I drove through the Ouachita Mountains on my way to Hot Springs (fun fact: this is where Bill Clinton grew up and when i first found that out, my thought was “oh good, now I will know this if it ever comes up in a trivia game).

Whenever I am heading to my next destination, I look at my map the night before, plug it into my GPS the next day and then highlight the route on my map as I drive. Although my GPS hasn’t been updated in a while, it knows its stuff. It knows good routes to take and always guides me to my destination. My GPS was created with the sole purpose of leading people places.

The irony of it is how often I don’t trust it. I am traveling to new places. I don’t know the roads. I don’t know the best ways. I don’t have a built-in knowledge of the best routes to take. My GPS was created to give directions. Its purpose is to guide me. Yet most of the time I think I know better. Up until a couple months ago I didn’t know how some of the states I would be visiting were even connected and yet I am more trustworthy in directions than my GPS.

IMG_1849.JPGThis being said, my GPS sometimes leads me on strange side roads because technically the distance in shorter. This happened a few times in Arkansas. I went on these back roads and 20 kms later they connected back to the highway I had been on. The speed limits were slower and the roads a bit bumpier, but to be honest, I was so thankful for these roads because the landscapes were beautiful and I enjoyed being forced to go a slower pace and take it all in. There were fields, trees, farms, abandoned houses, rivers. It was lovely. So, even when it seems to be leading me astray, it is often the better route. Mind you, the other day when it asked me if I wanted to include unpaved roads on my trip, I kindly declined.

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After walking around Hot Springs, I decided to drive around a bit more. I ended up on some back country roads and figured I would find my way back to town by following the signs leading me to Hot Springs Village. My GPS kept yelling at me to turn around (okay, she doesn’t actually yell, but is very persistent in telling me to ‘make a legal U-turn’), but I knew better. I knew this would get me back to where I wanted to be. I figured she would eventually come around and re-calculate according to my new (and better) route. Forty minutes later I finally decided to check out the map and where I actually was. Turns out I had driven forty minutes out of town en route somewhere else and that Hot Springs Village is different than Hot Springs. I had to drive back forty minutes the exact way I had come. Go figure- the GPS was right.

This is such a clear reminder for me that I’m not always right and I don’t always have the best route or plan in mind. I can trust the one who created me, knit me together in my mother’s womb and knows every detail of my being. I’m in an interesting season of transition right now as I look ahead to the Fall. I am no longer a caregiver for my mom, I am moving out of an intense season of grieving and the options before me seem endless. I have been trying to plot my own way even though I continually feel led in specific directions. Sometimes those directions don’t make sense to me, so I decide I should probably take a different turn because I know better (even though I have a very limited perspective of life). I need to trust the process. I need to trust the turns that don’t seem to make sense but end up being the best possible way I could have gone. I need slow down and be okay with bumpier roads. Besides, the bumpier roads are usually more interesting, beautiful and laden with adventure.

So I will continue moving forward and trusting. I will continue to remind myself that I don’t know everything and I can trust God in the process of where my next steps lie. I will continue listening to others around me who have different perspectives and have perhaps been this way before. I will continue to keep my eyes and ears open to be amazed at what is on the road all around me. Whichever way I go, I trust that it is being used to form and transform me. And I need to extend grace to myself in the moments when I forge my own path and ignore the clear one in front of me. Thankful for this journey and all its twists, turns and surprises.

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10/50: Oklahoma

Oklahoma… where the wind comes rushing down the plains. O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A!

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For those of you who have seen the musical, ‘Oklahoma’, you will know what song was stuck in my head and that I was singing through the entire state of Oklahoma. I only drove through a portion of Oklahoma, but ironically there were a lot of dense forests of trees rather than a lot of plains. However, there were wind turbines, so this would speak to the wind somewhere. Once again, I was surprised at the landscape I found as it was different than I had expected. I made sure to turn off at every scenic turn-off (some were much better than others) and enjoyed a stunning sunset that evening.

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I’ve been thinking a lot about expectations as I journey. I place a lot of expectations on myself and feel expectations from others. And if I’m honest, I project my expectations on to what God might expect of me. I have created space for this trip and want to honour it. I am so thankful for the opportunity to set this much time aside to go on a trip like this. Going on a ‘grieving road trip’ where writing is a big goal along with grieving is laden with expectations. How should I spend my time? What should I be thinking about? I’m reminded that I am where I am and that is okay.

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I am where I am. This means that my times of silence during my two days of driving through Oklahoma were often interrupted with me singing the Oklahoma song at the top of my lungs. This means being okay with stopping more to stretch my legs and rejuvenate myself when I’m feeling tired. This means paying attention to different emotions as they arise. And all of these things are good and part of where I am.

I’ve been reading a book of David Benner and am reminded that it is only when we accept ourselves exactly where and how we are that we can accept the fact that we are loved completely by God. There are certain parts of ourselves that we try to deny or push away because we want to change them. The desire for change is good but first we have to accept that it is the reality of ourselves and our current situations. If I merely live by my expectations, I will always fall short because I rarely live up to them.

Grief is laden with expectation. Based on our experience or what we have seen in the world around us, we form opinions on what it should be. However, it is a unique journey for each person and where we are in the journey is where we are. There are certain places where we need to move forward of course, but it’s important to have grace with ourselves in the process. I’m continually letting go of my expectations and noticing where I am. It’s a good place. It’s a hard place. It’s a grateful place. It’s a constantly shifting place. It’s an unpredictable place. Sometimes it’s what I might have anticipated and other times I am completely surprised. Where I am is where I am and that’s the best place for me to be.

Mother’s Day

It would be easy for me to hate this day.

Everywhere I go I see families out celebrating their mothers. My Facebook and Instagram are full of posts and pictures of moms and their kids. It would be easy to look at it all and be filled with resentment and cynicism, feeling as though I have nothing to celebrate today. It would be easy to be filled with emptiness and anger in response to so many beautiful posts. It would be easy to be solely consumed in my own sadness.

These responses however would be a big mistake.

Yes, Mother’s Day is a really hard day. It is a reminder of what I have lost. It is full of bittersweet memories of amazing time spent with my mom mixed with the longing to have her with me again. On the other end, it’s also a reminder that I don’t have my own children to be a mother to. At times I feel alone in the middle, with no one to anchor me on either side on this day.

165376_527074907306_3479295_nI miss my mom. Looking at pictures of her and I always brings back such wonderful memories and yet it is filled with deep sadness because there is a gaping hole that pangs for her. I long to be enfolded in her deep, unconditional love. My body aches to be held in the grips of her giant hugs that always lasted extra long. My ears strain to hear the depth of her full laughter. My heart wishes it could tell her again how much she meant to me, how deeply I loved and appreciated her. My passenger seat remains empty and oh how I wish she could be sitting there, joining me on my road trip adventures. This day is filled with deep sadness and longing.

1916322_522589411276_5232279_nBut to focus solely on the sadness and longing would be a deep injustice, not only to the memory of my mom, but also to this day. I grieve deeply because I was loved and loved deeply. The depth of my sadness reflects the depth of the relationship I shared with my mom. So today I also celebrate. I celebrate the 30 years I was blessed with the most wonderful and amazing mother. I remember the fun times and the hard times we shared that brought us closer together. I smile and laugh at different memories. There is sadness, yes, but it is accompanied with a deep joy. There are tears but they are mixed in with a smile and laughter.

Amidst the longing I feel today for my mom, I am also filled with deep appreciation and love for those who have influenced and invested in my life. For friends and mentors who have poured into me, loved me, believed in me, encouraged me and walked with me. I am thankful for spiritual mothers along the way. Thankful for those who have welcomed me into their families. Thankful for those who have expressed motherly love and concern. Thankful that the heart of a mother can be expressed in so many different ways and can extend to so many people. My heart is full on many levels.

I am also deeply grateful for all the mothers I know who have taught me  about life and about God. I am thankful for how they have been images of God’s love. I admire the daily sacrifices they make as mothers. I am grateful to journey with them through life and the different seasons of motherhood. I’m thankful for friends who are willing to share their little people with me, giving me opportunities to invest and play.

I also grieve alongside others who have lost their moms. I grieve alongside those who have lost their children. I grieve alongside those who long to be mothers.

Today is a day that brings up a myriad of emotions. I’m so thankful that sadness isn’t the only one. And so today I will smile, cry and laugh. I will remember. I will grieve and celebrate. Happy Mother’s Day.

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9/50: Texas

IMG_1758.JPGYou say Texas, I say tacos.

I love the creativity of tacos and different ways to eat them and also the hospitality that they represent.

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I visited some dear friends in Texas and enjoyed my time with them immensely. It was my second time being in Austin and there was something special about coming back to a familiar place. I had the privilege of being invited to share with their home church some of what I have learned throughout my life about loss & lament and then specifically about what I have been learning along the way on my trip.

It’s funny sometimes to listen to yourself answer questions, because sometimes I’m a bit shocked at how profound and true my answers are. They resonate deeply and encourage me as I hear myself share them. It sounds funny but often we forget or don’t fully notice the things that God has been doing within us or how we are being transformed.

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I think this is why it’s so important to share with others. It’s one thing to process stuff on your own and be self-aware, but there is deep value in sharing it with others and encouraging one another. There is great value in hearing one another’s stories and perspectives and using them as places to grow.

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I met Terra when I first started seminary four years ago. At the orientation, she was one of the first people I met when she came to sit at my table. I’m so thankful for a friendship that began so naturally, for a friendship that has continued to grow throughout our years of classes, meals and discussion together, and for a friendship that will continue regardless of the physical distance between us. I have learned a lot from her and how she has courageously walked through loss and continues to pursue God, her calling and meaningful community. My life is enriched by sharing life with her.

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FullSizeRender.jpg-3I’m recognizing anew the importance of sharing my story- the good, the hard and the ugly. My hope is that there is value in it for others but also for myself, to remember and remind myself of what God has been doing. God has been present and faithful and unfortunately it is easy for me to forget that in the present moment. I cling to this truth as I have known it in the past, that it is true for the present and will be true in the future. Thankful for God’s presence as evidenced through creation and through people.

After Texas, there is a long stretch by myself and that makes me even more grateful for the richness of community and for people to share it with. More on being along in a future post. So, I will continue to share my story and encourage you to continue sharing yours! I will continue reflecting on what God has been doing and how I see myself being transformed and will continue to pursue God in all facets of this journey.

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